The agonizing pain associated with the migraine has been reported for centuries. And while many studies have been performed, migraines are a poorly understood condition affecting millions. Massage therapy has long been described as a non-invasive way to manage pain and bring about some degree of relief for the migraine sufferer.
Migraines have been associated with vascular abnormalities since the late 1600’s. However, early cultures thought migraines were a curse from the gods. Treatments have varied over the course of history to include such things as tying a clay crocodile to the head with linen inscribed with the names of the gods (ancient Egypt, approximately 1200 BC) to dripping coca juice containing cocaine into an incision in the scalp (ancient Incas) to willow bark extract (Native Americans).
As studies and modern medicine progressed migraines remain beguiling. Migraines can attack for any of a variety of reasons, including things like hormones, stress, hunger, weather changes, visual or auditory stimuli, change in sleep patterns, medications, certain smells, certain foods and additives or allergies.
Typically, migraines are treated with prescription medications. However, improper or prolonged use of medications can actually perpetuate the pain. The best treatment for migraines is promoting an optimal environment.
How Can Massage Help?
Massage by a qualified, trained massage therapist can address a multitude of problems that may contribute to migraine pain. Massage coupled with an in-depth look into lifestyle habits and environmental causes with positive actions to take control over triggers can alleviate pain, decrease the duration or intensity of pain – even eliminate the migraine.
Take stress for example. Physical or mental stress impedes your quality of life. It can perpetuate or initiate sickness. A relaxing massage can decrease stress and promote a sense of overall wellness.
Massage technique can relax abnormal tension in the muscles in areas commonly associated with migraine pain. These include the neck, shoulders, trunk and jaw. Gentle soothing techniques, such as kneading or long gliding strokes to the neck, shoulders and scalp can significantly reduce pain.
Gentle pressure along the forehead, back of the neck at the base of the skull and around the eyes and jaw can calm trigger points, those areas that may cause sudden or radiating pain.
Gentle stretching techniques, especially of the neck and shoulders can increase range of motion and decrease spasms or muscular contractions.
During An Attack
The goal of massage during a migraine attack is comfort. A shortened treatment of 30 – 45 minutes to tolerance will avoid exhaustion, thus an increased likelihood of exacerbated symptoms. Treatment should be relaxing in nature. No deep or vigorous techniques should be applied at this time.
If you are unable to tolerate any work on the main areas (neck, shoulders and head) try cold packs or ice to these areas while receiving a massage to the hands or feet. The theory of reflexology suggests the hands and feet are a map of the body, so massage of these areas can relieve pain as well.
Take caution when applying ice to the head area. Avoid the possibility of frostbite or freezing of the tissues and muscles by never applying ice directly to skin. Always wrap cold packs or ice in towel. Limit use to five to ten minutes. And do not massage area after ice application, as a numbing effect will decrease sensation and increase the possibility of injury to the tissues or muscles.
Before and After An Attack
Massage treatments are most beneficial if performed on a regular basis to help the body maintain optimal performance. Relaxing techniques can promote stress relief and overall well-being. Deeper, more vigorous techniques can be applied at this time to address restrictions in range of motion, muscle spasms, tight areas and trigger points.
It is also a good idea to treat other areas, such as your back and trunk, as these areas may also be causing pain in your head. But always be mindful of your pain tolerance. If a specific move causes pain, let your massage therapist know immediately. Some discomfort should be expected, but any sharp, shooting pain or pain that brings on a headache should be avoided.
What You Can Do
Migraines are like an intricate puzzle. There is typically no one problem contributing to the agony. Your job is to evaluate your lifestyle and decrease you’re your triggers.
You should also apply massage techniques to yourself. Self-massage to the head, face and neck can help alleviate pain during a migraine attack. Gentle finger pressure across your eyebrow line and underneath your eyes can help manage pain symptoms. Gentle rotating pressure to your jaw and temple area can also assist in relieving pain.
Remember, the same rules apply when giving yourself a massage – if it hurts too much, ease up or stop. At no time should you experience sharp, shooting pain.
When pain radiates to the back of the head and down the neck, tying two tennis balls in a sock and rolling the back of the skull across them can ease tension. But make sure you keep your head in a good position with your chin tucked under.
Stretching the muscles of the neck and shoulders can keep the muscles working at an optimal length. Bring your chin to your chest, then to each side. Avoid bending your neck back (as if you were gazing up to the sky) because too much pressure can be put on the vertebrae, the bones of your spine. This may trigger an attack.
Keeping stress, both physical and mental, down can really make a difference in migraines. This is why a regular massage schedule is beneficial.
When to Worry
Not every headache requires a trip to the doctor’s office, but there are times when a medical evaluation may be necessary.
If you experience a change in your headaches or an unusual symptom, talk to your physician. Things like abrupt, explosive pain should never be ignored, for this may be a sign of an oncoming stroke. If headache is accompanied with a fever or rash, contact your doctor, as these may be signs of meningitis.
Migraines are difficult, because often times in addition to the excruciating pain, you experience visual disturbances, sensitivity to light and noise, stiff neck and nausea. This is why is it of the utmost importance to keep track of your pain and report any changes.
The best way to combat migraines is to take care of your self. Massage is an excellent, natural way to manage pain without ingesting pill after pill that may make you drowsy and unproductive. And whereas massage may not bring about immediate relief, restoring optimal functioning of the muscles and decreasing tight areas will help over time.