Does Massage Help Migraines- Natural Migraine Relief

A migraine can potentially wipe you out. Photo by DAVIDCOHEN on Unsplash

Migraines are terrible. They are more than just a headache. Migraines can affect your perception of the world in disturbing ways. They can make it impossible to get out of bed. They can make it impossible to keep down food and the very medication intended to provide relief. And they can leave you debilitated for days.

Migraines can take away your very sense of control over your body. It is natural to look for things that you can do to reduce your migraines beyond taking a pill. In a way, you are taking back control that you have lost from this crippling condition and you are doing something proactive.

This post aims to answer the question “Does massage help migraines?” First, we’ll look at what a migraine is and what you may experience when you have a migraine. Then we’ll look at how massage therapy affects migraines. After that, I’ll point out some important things that you should consider if you want to use massage therapy for migraines and also different types of massages that people normally recommend for migraines.

Before we continue, I would like to emphasize that this post is for informational purposes only. I am not a medical professional and the information in this post is not intended to replace professional medical advice. Please read my full medical disclaimer here.

What Is A Migraine?

A migraine is a pounding, pulsing, complex headache that usually has other symptoms that go along with it that occur in stages, as laid out by the American Migraine Foundation.

If you get a migraine, you may feel it coming on. I tend to get more anxious and excitable before I get a migraine. Others may find that they feel wiped out and that they are starving. Others may not notice a difference at all. Regardless, the symptoms that come before you get a migraine headache is called the prodrome stage.

About an hour before you get a migraine, you may experience a visual aura. During an aura, your vision becomes distorted, you may see flashing lights in the air or even notice odd smells. An aura is a pretty unique feature of a migraine headache. However, only about 25% of people who suffer from migraines experience it.

Next comes the headache stage. Migraines usually feel like pulsing and pounding headaches and they usually occur on one side of your head. When I get a migraine, I also tend to feel nauseous, dizzy, and disoriented.

After a migraine, you may feel wiped out and weakened. This is the postdrome stage.

A migraine is much more than just head pain. It can last several days and be extremely debilitating. In fact, according to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraine is the 6th most disabling illnesses in the world.

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Migraine Triggers

Unfortunately, with migraines you may have to think twice before you enjoy chocolate. Photo by Taylor Kiser on Unsplash

In order to understand whether or not massages help migraines, we need to understand the causes behind migraines and what triggers them.

Migraines are incredibly complex and involve many different systems of the body working together in a dysfunctional way. Migraines involve blood vessels, the nervous system, hormones, genetics etc. Science has some idea for the processes that occur in the body during a migraine but there is not yet a definitive and full explanation.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t do something to help your migraines.

If you are suffering from migraines, you should definitely talk to your doctor about it. They will provide treatment, make sure that you have an accurate diagnosis, and identify any underlying conditions that may contribute to your migraines.

You should also consider tracking your migraines so that you can identify any triggers. When you track migraines you may notice that certain foods such as chocolate may set them off (Oddly enough, I got more migraines when I tried taking melatonin for sleep, which some claim alleviates a migraine).

Or you may notice that you get a migraine every couple of weeks or once a month. Or you may notice that you get them after a bad sleep. Figuring out your migraine triggers can go a long way as far as prevention is concerned.

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Massage Therapy and Migraine

On a certain level, it makes sense that massages would help with migraines. One of the triggers of a migraine is stress and many people find that massages are extremely relaxing. You would expect for someone to experience fewer stress-related migraines after a relaxing massage.

It There Any Research To Back It Up?

does massage help migraines

Is massage therapy for migraines supported by research? Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

There have been a few research studies that have backed up the idea that massages may help with migraines. However, these research studies have been preliminary studies. They have fewer participants (less than 50) and their methods are not as rigorous as a full study.

One risk in these studies is that the participants mistakenly believe that they have migraine headaches when they are actually suffering from the more common tension headache.

The preliminary studies did show some promising results, however. In one study, the intensity of the participant pain was reduced by 71%. In another study, the number of migraines that the participants experienced was reduced by 34%.

These numbers sound exciting, but at the end of the day, these are preliminary studies. More research needs to be done before we can really say that massages help with migraines.

However, you may find that massages help you manage your migraines. If you have migraines and choose to try out massage for it, you should do an experiment of your own. You should keep track of your migraines and see if you notice fewer and/ or less intense migraines. Then you can decide whether massages are really worth it.

Massage As A Migraine Trigger

Even though some people may find massages therapeutic, others may feel that a massage actually triggers their migraine. This is one of the weird things about migraines- a therapy that people swear by may not work for everyone.

If you want to try out a massage for migraines, it is important that you realize this risk. If you notice that you are getting more migraines after you start getting massages, recognize that massages may not be for you.

Is Massage Therapy Worth It?

does massage help migraines

You should consider more than money when deciding on the value of massage therapy. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

If you are considering massage therapy for migraine, it is important to consider the cost, the benefits, and other options that you may have.

Massage therapy can be expensive. An hour-long session will usually cost upwards of $50 (even though it is certainly possible to find massage coupons online). If you are getting multiple sessions, it adds up.

Massage therapy also has a time and travel requirement (unless you want to use an at-home massager).

However, you may find massage therapy beneficial for your migraines and may really enjoy the entire massage therapy/spa experience, including the therapeutic settings, the music, the lights, and talking to your therapist. The entire experience may add something wonderful to your life.

It is important to realize that there are other things that you can do to reduce your migraines. Some relaxation techniques, that are almost free, have shown a 41% reduction in preliminary studies.

Thus, massages are not your only hope for reducing migraines without medication. There are some really fantastic things that you can do to relax that can potentially reduce the number of migraines that you experience.

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What Type Of Massage Should You Get For A Migraine?

There are many different types of massages that you can choose from. Below, I list some of the risks and benefits of a few if you are considering using them for migraine:

  • Swedish Massage– This massage is a very popular option, especially for people who are new to massage. It is one of the more gentle options and involves varied pressure using the hands. Techniques that Swedish massage uses is kneading and tapping. One of the advantages that this type of massage has for migraine is the fact that it is relatively gentle.
  • Trigger Point Massage Therapy– One of the research studies mentioned above used techniques from trigger point massage therapy. This type of massage therapy focuses on relaxing tight areas of muscle using pressure and relaxation techniques. Since this therapy focuses on painful areas, you may notice some discomfort during this massage. Even though this type of massage has shown some promise during preliminary studies, you should consider whether the discomfort is really worth it and whether it is actually beneficial for you.
  • Reflexology– Reflexologist apply pressure on parts of the body that are associated with organs in order to release “chi” or life energy. I tend to be skeptical of the theory behind reflexology. However, it is a fairly gentle practice and you may find that it helps with your migraines.
  • Aromatherapy– An aromatherapy uses massage techniques in combination with relaxing essential oils. Some people may find aromatherapy intensely relaxing. However, some people with migraines have a sensitivity to smell making aromatherapy unbearable.
  • Craniosacral Therapy– Craniosacral therapy aims to reduce pain by encouraging the movement of cerebrospinal fluid. Though not for everyone, it involves light touch and pressure and is a fairly gentle practice compared to other massage modalities. However, there is a lot of justified doubt about whether this practice can actually move around cerebrospinal fluid. Regardless, many people find craniosacral therapy intensely relaxing which is a benefit in and of itself.
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Communicating With Your Massage Therapist

does massage help migraines

Communication leads to winning. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

In order to have the best massage experience, make sure that you talk to your massage therapist. If you notice any discomfort or if you feel as if you can’t continue, make sure that you let them know. Remember, they want for you to have the best experience so make sure that you communicate clearly with them.

In conclusion, even though there is a lot that we do not know about migraines, there have been some preliminary studies that indicate that massages may help migraines. However, if you chose to try out massages for your migraines, it is important to consider that massages do come with risks and that they are not for everyone- after all, they could potentially trigger a migraine.

This post outlined what a migraine is and the stages of migraines. It also looked at some of the risks and benefits that you should consider if you are thinking about getting massages for migraines, some of the types of massages that people commonly get for migraines, and the importance of communication with your massage therapist if you have a health condition.

If you are interested in trying out massage therapy for migraines, I encourage you to continue to learn more about massage therapy, its risks, and the different ways that you can incorporate it into your life.

In the comments below, please let me know what helps you when you are suffering from a migraine. What are some of your migraine triggers?

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  1. Thanks for this very informative article. I am not a migraine sufferer but i do get bad headaches.
    A few years ago I used to get them all the time – pain killers didn’t help at all which i never got the bottom of.
    But what did help was massage, regular chinese, pressure point massage always fixed them.
    As you said massage can be one person’s cure and another person’s trigger but for me it certainly helped.

    • Thanks, Allie! I am glad to hear that massages helped you overcome your headaches. They can be a great alternative measure.

  2. Hi Eva,

    Even though I don’t suffer from migraines, I found this to be an interesting and informative blog.

    I liked your post. I’m all for learning new things and this did that. I liked it that you warned me that massage might not be the best thing for me (it could trigger a migraine). It can be costly. And if I try it, I should keep track of my results. But it could be the best thing for me.

  3. My wife gets real bad migraines and often times she’ll ask me to massage your head. She swears it makes her feel better.

    I had no idea there were so many different types of massages though. I would be interested to see if one actually works better then the other.

    Have you personally ever gotten a massage to help with migraines?

    • Yes, it would be interesting to know for sure the best type of massage for a migraine. Unfortunately, they haven’t really done that much research on whether one type of massage is more effective than another. You would have to go by trial and error. 

      I personally have a percussion massager that I use. Originally, I used it to help out with back tension. However, I noticed that I had fewer migraines from it also (one of the reasons that I wanted to look more into the research).

  4. Hi Eva,
    Wonderful article on migraines and massages. My wife has gotten migraines for the past 20 years. Fortunately they only come around every 2-3 months. She gets that aura that you mention in your article, typically in the form of twinkly lights on the edges of her vision. That’s when she knows it’s going to be a bad one.
    Personally I am a big fan of massages. Like you mention there is certainly the cost to consider. Your article has interesting timing actually. I’d bought my wife a massage for the holidays. As usual she wasn’t setting an appointment so I did it for her. About a month ago she went and got her massage. It just so happened it was on the same day she had a migraine. She said the massage did wonders for her migraine!
    Mat A.

    • Hi Mat,

      I am glad to hear that your wife was able to find some relief from her migraine from a massage. For those who find massage effective, it can be a wonderful gift. 

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