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  • Writer's pictureLauren Burnham

Pain in the Brain

Massage Away Your Migraine

Every migraine sufferer takes some form of medication to help them control pain. From preventive to abortive medications, over-the-counter and prescribed medicines, they’re all on the go-to list when pain strikes or threatens.

A remedy that many find effective, but not so many seek out, is massage. As a therapy, massage can help relieve muscle spasms, it can improve blood flow and circulation, relieving tension and promoting relaxation. It has been shown to be helpful in bringing relief for both tension and vascular headaches.

Although few studies have been done on the effectiveness of massage therapy in the treatment of migraine, one performed by the University of Miami School of Medicine tested two groups of migraine sufferers. In the first group, the control, participants took their normal medication but received no massage. In the second group, massage was added weekly to normal medication. Those in the massage group not only suffered no migraine headaches during the course of the study, they also slept better and had increased serotonin levels.

The most favorable massage routine seems to be for deep tissue work in between migraine attacks. Because many migraine sufferers experience extreme sensitivity to touch, and many find any movement increases pain levels, deep tissue massage during an attack would be out of the question. However, light hand or foot massage during pain could help. It is thought that massaging these areas improves the circulation, helping to reduce pressure in the head which is often a contributory factor.


1. Muscle Spasms or Tension:  Massage in the neck and shoulder regions can help to relax taught bands of tissue, loosening  the sub-occipitals (those muscles attached to the base of the skull),  which cause pain through tension that travels up through the back of the head and into the eye areas.

2. Hormone Regulation:  Hormonal chemical changes often trigger migraines. Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, can be controlled by massage therapy, which also increases endorphin production as well as stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.

3. Decrease Trigger Point Pain: Neuromuscular therapy, also known as trigger point therapy, targets hyper-irritable, tender, tissue areas that can refer pain to other parts of the body.

4. Improved Circulation: Massage has been shown to increase blood flow, which in turn improves oxygen levels and can help reduce pain.

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