While we think of massage in terms of relieving muscle and joint pain, how often do we think of it as a form of migraine relief? Even though massage may not take away all the pain associated with migraine headaches, it has shown some success in helping people who suffer from migraine better manage it.
Contrary to popular belief, migraine is a neurological disease, not a vascular one. Experts say the disease can be described as an inherited tendency to have headaches accompanied by sensory disturbances.
To get to the bottom of a migraine, it’s good to first take a look at how they develop. Each migraine phase can vary dramatically among sufferers. Up to 72 hours before the pain hits, warning signs can include symptoms like severe exhaustion, hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating, food cravings, sleepiness and neck pain. Some victims report their vision being interrupted by sparkly spots, zigzag lines or tunnel vision lasting up to an hour. Other warning signs include vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and even temporary paralysis on one side of the body.
The pain during this, sometimes days-long phase, is often described as throbbing, piercing or pulsating with victims being sensitive to light, sound and smell. Unfortunately, exercise can make it worse, so I advise my clients to try and avoid a lot of physical movement when they feel their symptoms coming on. Once the pain has subsided, there is exhaustion, sluggishness, confusion and sometimes even depression.
While there have been few studies done on the efficacy of massage for migraines, many patients find massage therapy helpful, in which case doctors encourage them to make it a regular part of their treatment plan along with other healthy lifestyle habits, such as relaxation and self-care activities. The studies that do make a positive connection between migraines and massage reported a decrease in the frequency of migraine attacks compared to the control group. Heart rates, anxiety levels and salivary cortisol levels also decreased by the end of each massage session.
Migraine sufferers often schedule a massage every 4–6 weeks to help manage migraine attacks. They prefer deep tissue, trigger point or a Swedish massage and some report knowing it’s time toset up a massage session when their shoulders become tense and it’s difficult to get them to relax back into a normal posture. Those who suffer from migraines more frequently schedule their sessions every two weeks (which case it is best to buy a massage package) but admit finding the right massage therapist is essential. My knowledge of myofascial massage includes a knowledge of touch levels (anything too rough or hard can trigger a migraine attack, defeating the entire purpose for a visit)!
There are times a client is having an active migraine during a session, requiring me to focus first on pressure points on the head and neck and then move on to the neck and shoulders. I start lightly and increase the intensity depending on what is tolerable. Stretching the neck, using forward flexion,is also a key technique in addressing pain stemming from this area during an attack. .
Before beginning a session with a migraine sufferer, I ask a slew of questions, such as whether there are areas already extremely sensitive to touch, a sensation caused by allodynia. This can especially happen around the scalp. Another common symptom I ask about is sensitivity to smell (hypersomnia),. I make sure there are no essential oil oders in the room as well as having a whole-room air filter running which assures that nothing will exacerbate that condition. I also encourage my migraine clients to hydrate frequently, as dehydration is a common trigger for a migraine attack.
Most migraine patients prefer cold, not heat— so a helpful form of massage therapy is applied with cold stones. Cold stones are placed on the nerves in the face, temples and at the back of the scalp, as these are the nerves that, when inflamed, can trigger a migraine attack. The soothing coolness of the stones helps calm these nerves.
If you are a migraine sufferer and have any questions about this type of therapy, please text me at 916.837.6582 or you can use my online scheduling system to schedule an appointment. Let’s talk about your needs and discuss your symptoms.