Having worked as a massage therapist in Toronto for several years, I have noticed a great deal of people suffer from headaches, or migraines. I constantly get inquiries as to whether or not massage therapy can help, so I figured I would write a quick post to let everyone know how incredibly successful massage therapy can be in relieving headaches and pains.
Now in order to fully understand how massage therapy can help, it is first important to know that there are really 3 common types of headaches: sinus headaches, tension headaches and migraines. It is also important to note that if you ever get a CRAZY, INTENSE, MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE headache, that you have never had before, it is VERY important that you get medical attention immediately. This type of headache can be a symptom of a major problem such as high blood pressure, or an aneurysm. Don’t hesitate get to the hospital!
Now that I’ve said that, back to the most common types of headaches.
1. Sinus headaches.
These headaches are usually located above the eyes and can spread to below the eyes, where the sinuses are located. Tension headaches can refer to the same area, so an easy way to differentiate between the two is to simply bend over and look down for about 15 seconds. If you feel an increase in pain and pressure, you are most likely suffering from a sinus headache. It could be an infection, or simply inflammation. Either way, get a cold compress and place it over the painful area. This will help decrease inflammation, and pain. Then make a appointment with your MD, just to make sure you don’t have a infection.
How can Registered Massage Therapy help?
Once you are sure that you do not have a sinus infection, massage therapy can help alleviate some of the discomfort. We do this by releasing all the muscles of the neck, head, and face. Sometimes tight muscles can refer pain into the sinus area, and even cause a feeling of congestion. Afterwards, the sinuses themselves will be addressed with techniques that can loosen up the congestion, and drain it out. Often the treatment is completed with a cold compress and lymphatic drainage to the face to decrease swelling.
2. Tension headaches.
These are THE most common type of headache. In some cases they can be confused with migraines because they can become sooo intense. Tension headaches are usually caused by a build up of tension in the muscles of the neck and shoulders. This increase in tension can activate trigger points that are found in these muscles and cause them to refer into the head, and face. The most common areas to feel pain during a tension headache is at the base of the skull, around the ear into the temple, and behind the eyes. Even if these are the most common areas to feel pain, tension headaches can be felt anywhere in the head. The pain can vary from a mild discomfort, to an ache, to a raging pulsing headache.
The x indicates the location of the trigger point, and the red area is the location of pain.
How can massage therapy help?
Massage therapy is actually one of the most effective ways of calming down, eliminating and preventing a tension headache. Your massage therapist will usually preform a quick assessment to help determine which muscles may be causing your headache, and whether or not there are any other contributing factors. Afterwards all the muscles of the shoulder and neck will be addressed with massage techniques that will both increase circulation, and decrease muscle tension. If the headaches are caused by trigger points, these will be addressed and released, relieving any pain they might be referring into the head. Many different techniques will be used, such as trigger point release, deep tissue massage, acupuncture and stretching. The underlying causes will also be addressed. If stress is causing the tension, then relaxing techniques will be used to soothe and relax the body and mind. If it’s related to bad posture, then the therapist will work towards fixing the postural issues, so that your tension headache doesn’t keep coming back.
If you have ever had a migraine headache you know how absolutely TERRIBLE they are! I’ve only had 2 in my life, and both were related to a reaction to food. It was a awful experience!! The pain intensity felt with migraines can vary from person to person. It can range from discomfort, to “my head’s going to explode I need to lay down and hide for 2 days.” As you can guess, this can greatly affect your ability to perform normal activities of daily living, and in some cases can be extremely debilitating.
Migraine headaches are caused by a increase in blood flow to the brain. This increase can be caused by a variety of reasons: allergies, food sensitivities, barometric pressure, stress, hormonal imbalance…. and the list goes on. Most of the time the headache is accompanied by an aura. There are different varieties of migraine-induced auras. Some describe it as tunnel vision, other see flickering lights, others get nauseous, and some unlucky people get all of the above. In most cases people suffering from a migraine find that they are also sensitive to light and sound, and usually need to rest in a dark quiet place.
Medication is often prescribed to those who have frequent migraine headaches. Unfortunately it does not work with everybody, and can be quite pricey if you do not have insurance.
How Massage Therapy can help?
Massage therapy is usually not indicated during a full blown migraine, it is more useful in preventing the next one from happening.
In some cases migraines can be related to stress, and neck muscle tension (especially the muscles at the base of the skull). Massage therapy is a very effective, and natural way of reducing both of these triggers. The muscles at the base of the skull, called the Suboccipitals, are commonly a factor in migraine headaches. These muscles respond very quickly to stress by become very tight. One of these muscles have a direct link to the covering of the spinal cord, and many blood vessels and nerves surround this muscle group. This is why, when they get really tight, they can have an effect on blood flow to the brain, as well as causing an aura and pain. Specific massage therapy treatments can greatly reduce the tension in these muscles, possibly preventing another migraine from occurring.
Hydrotherapy can also be used during the massage therapy treatment. Warm compresses are used to relax the muscles and increase circulation to the tissues, and cold compresses are used if the client feels like a migraine may be starting. The cold compress around the neck and over the eyes help constrict the blood vessels going to the brain decreasing excessive blood going up to the brain. ( This is something that can also be done at home to help stop a migraine.)
Suboccipital muscles located on the back of the head/neck