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The Science of Massage for Migraines

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

While there is a lack of scientific data, Dawn Buse, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Director of Behavioral Medicine at the Montefiore Headache Center in New York said that patients find value in massage therapy as treatment for migraines.

She explains that “Data on the efficacy of massage for migraine are somewhat limited. This does not mean that massage is not helpful for migraine, but rather that there have been few studies, and they have had smaller samples and less rigorous designs, so we do not have the scientific evidence necessary to make a conclusive statement about its efficacy. This is due in large part to the fact that there is less funding available to support research on massage and other non-pharmacologic treatments than there is to support the testing of new medications. However, many patients find massage therapy helpful, in which case I encourage them to make it a regular part of their treatment plan along with other healthy lifestyle habits, relaxation and self-care activities.”

While studies are limited, there have been a few which point to a connection between massage and migraine relief. We have summarized a few of those studies here.

•    In a randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy as a treatment for migraines participants either received two 30-minute traditional massages or no massage for five weeks. Each trial participant’s heart rate, salivary cortisol level and anxiety level were measured before and after each session. The participants in the massage group reported a decrease in migraine attack frequency when compared to the control group. By the end of each massage session heart rates, anxiety levels and salivary cortisol levels all decreased.

•    A randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial focusing on myofascial trigger point focused head and neck massage for recurring tension-type headaches (a related headache disorder) had participants separated into three groups. In a six week period participants either received: no massage, ultrasound or 12 myofascial trigger-point massage sessions. This myofascial massage focused on releasing abnormal skeletal muscles which are often a factor in triggering migraines and tension headaches. The highest positive change in headache frequency, perceived headache pain and improved pressure-pain threshold was reported from the massage group.

•    Participants with chronic tension and migraine headaches were separated into two groups for a study on the effects of Thai traditional massage on the pressure pain threshold and headache intensity. During a three week period study participants either received an ultrasound or nine sessions of Thai traditional massage. Thai traditional massage uses stretching, compression, rocking motions and pulling instead of rubbing of muscles. Participants in the massage group reported a pain pressure threshold increase while those in the placebo group reported a decrease. Both study groups reported a significant reduction in migraine attack intensity.

As you can see there is a connection between massage as a treatment for migraines, further research should strengthen this connection.

Source: American Massage Therapy Association