You might think that “massage for headaches” would be a simple and straightforward topic. It’s anything but. For one thing, according to WebMD, there are 150 different kinds of headaches, and there’s no reason to suppose that whatever helps one type helps another as well. Of these 150 types, only six are common (migraine, cluster, chronic daily, sinus, posttraumatic, and tension). The final type of headache — the tension headache — is the most common type, and that’s the type I’ll be considering in this post.
The Tension Myth
The name tension headache suggests it could be managed with relaxation, which makes it an ideal subject for massage. But there’s a problem. No study has proved that tension headaches involve tension or tight muscles. That’s why the experts now call them “tension-type” headaches. Furthermore, it turns out that tension headaches are one of the most poorly understood types of headaches. If you have migraine, cluster, or sinus headaches, chances are a doctor can help you find the biological cause or at least prescribe a treatment for it. But if you suffer from tension headaches, there isn’t much help available, unless you get them at least four times a month. That makes you eligible for one of a half dozen prescriptions that may help prevent them. The other advice a doctor might give you for preventing them is to improve your sleep and curb stress.
Relaxation for Headache
If you get tension headaches and don’t get four or more per month or just don’t like the idea of taking prescriptions, you may benefit from relaxation techniques. Even though there’s no evidence that tension headaches come from tension, sufferers often report relief as a result of relaxation. Doctors often suggest breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation (video) for tension-type headaches. And, of course, massage is the king of relaxation techniques.
In fact, massage appears to be the most common nonmedical intervention for headache. The American Massage Therapy Association suggests both deep tissue massage and trigger point massage for relieving headache. Interestingly, the AMTA article on the subject reminds massage therapists who get headaches to get their own massages to deal with them. In any case, the AMTA emphasizes the importance of doing an assessment before attempting to massage a client out of a headache. The therapist needs to understand the source of the headache. That means asking questions about tight places in the head and neck including the face. The therapist will also want to know when the headache started, what might have made it worse, and whether the client has a family history of headache.
Massage for Headaches
If you book an appointment with one of our licensed massage therapists here at Peak, you can expect just such a careful assessment. When you arrive for your first session, your therapist will complete a private and confidential intake with you. This will enable him or her, not just to understand your headache, but to gain a comprehensive understanding of your goals and needs for having a massage. After the intake, it’s time for relaxation: 30, 60, or 90 minutes in the competent, strong hands of a practitioner trained to find tension, knots, and blockages. There’s really nothing else like it. The movement of your tissues during massage tends to calm your nervous system, and this calming soothes your pain. It may even lower your blood pressure, reduce your heart rate, and change your brain activity. We look forward to seeing you.
Photo: “headache” by openDemocracy is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0