I get a lot of phone calls asking if massage can help with migraines. The answer is probably yes, but there are a few factors to consider:
Has your physician diagnosed your headaches as migraine? They are a specialized kind of headache which start with a neurological thunderstorm in your brain and lead to vascular flow problems. Not every bad headache is a migraine, so it's important to know exactly what we're dealing with.
Are you in between headaches or in the prodrome? This is when massage can help reduce the frequency and severity of migraine. If you've progressed to the aura or pain phase, it's better to wait it out through the postdrome and get your massage later.
Have you had botox or other injectibles to treat your migraine? We don't want to do any circulatory work at the injection site and disperse the medications your neurologist so carefully dispensed, but we still have choices.
Has a massage ever triggered a migraine for you? Again, although we'll want to tread carefully, we still have choices.
Massage, especially when a regular part of your wellness plan, can help to ease or prevent your migraines. Rather than get massage only when you feel one coming on, you'll want to schedule regular sessions and find a maintenance cycle that keeps your headaches at bay. Because muscular tension can be a powerful migraine trigger, you want to get massage before you hurt--it's less effective when the muscles are already sore.
If massage triggers your headaches, you've had injectibles, or you don't like a more vigorous style of work, I'd suggest craniosacral therapy. The soft tissue releases happen very gently, without the kneading of flushing strokes of a traditional massage. For folks who dislike or can't tolerate massage therapy, craniosacral therapy can be a powerful tool to reduce the frequency or duration of migraines. Others like to combine cranisacral therapy with massage to get the most out of each treatment.
How does massage and craniosacral therapy help migraines?
Bodywork can release trigger points and myofascial tension that contribute to your headaches.
It reduces the congestion at the base of the skull which, left untreated, is a factor in the cranial back pressure you feel as pain during a migraine.
They are important stress management tools, and lower stress levels generate fewer migraines.
Reguar massage and craniosacral therapy can help the body's internal environment to regulate, which can prevent some of the hormonal and biochemical triggers of migraine.
It's important to remember that for bodywork to be an effective treatment for migraines, it needs to happen on a regular cycle. Just like the dietary modifications, medications and exercise that your physician may have recommended, for it to be effective, massage needs to be a part of your regular routine. One unfortunate truth about migraine is that you need to make daily wellness choices to prevent the headaches; at least massage gets to be the fun choice!