Massage and Migraine Headaches

Here's a guest article about massage and migraine headaches.

Migraine Headache

by Susan Peterson, LMT, NCTMB 

Massage therapists often see clients seeking relief from chronic headaches, and migraines are the most common type of chronic headache. Unfortunately, migraine headaches are poorly understood and treatments are inadequate, according to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF).

The AMF reports 36 million Americans get migraines, and 6 million of those people have chronic migraines. This fact puts migraines on the list of the World Health Organization’s top 20 most disabling health problems in the world. 

About Migraines

Severity is the major difference between migraine and tension headache, according to Dr. Stephen D. Silberstein, a past President of the American Headache Society, which met on June 24, 2010, for its 52nd annual scientific meeting in Los Angeles, where I spoke with him about migraines.

Silberstein said that people with migraines tend to go to the doctor with a list of disabling symptoms, while people with tension headaches get them occasionally, take a headache remedy, and keep going.

Doctors don’t see migraines as a progression of regular tension headache, Silberstein said, although the two are often confused in practice. "Some people have little migraines that are misdiagnosed as tension headaches, when they are in fact migraines," he said.

Massage and Migraine Headaches




Silberstein states that massage for migraines is a good adjunct therapy as long as the person has seen a doctor and been screened for other illnesses that create headaches. He also warns that massaging someone with a headache caused by an infection or injury can worsen the problem.

Most massage therapists are used to seeing people who have already been diagnosed with migraines and are seeking support to reduce the frequency and severity of attacks or to reduce their use of migraine-halting drugs.

The American Headache Society offers a quick way to assess the difference between tension and migraine headaches. Tension headaches occur on both sides of the head, do not throb, and are not severe. Migraines are one-sided, with severe, throbbing pain. They can also come with a bucket-full of other symptoms, such as sensitivity to light and sound and visual auras. 

The American Headache Society's website is full of information helpful to massage therapists who want to offer migraine massage therapy. Besides listing symptoms, their archives contain interviews with researchers who have linked migraines to a history childhood abuse. This research can be helpful to massage therapists, who may be the first person a client confides in about abuse.

About the Author

Sue Peterson, LMT, NCTMB, has a private practice in Orange County, California. She writes about massage therapy at Find Touch.

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