how massage can help relieve migraines

In light of Migraine Awareness Week next week, we take a look at how massage can relieve migraines.

Not just a headache, Migraine can be a crippling condition often misunderstood and underestimated. Compared to a typical tension type headache (caused by tight muscles in the head and neck with pain all over), migraine pain is usually one sided only with a number of associated symptoms, ranging from debilitating head pain, nausea, vomiting, numbness in the limbs, pins and needles and sometimes paralysis. Migraines are often accompanied by either sound and/or light sensitivity or aura (visual disturbances) and can last from 4 – 72 hours.

There is no known cause and no cure but it is a disorder that almost certainly has some genetic basis.

According to Migraine Action, Britain’s leading charity supporting people affected by migraine:

  • Migraine is the third most common disease in the world (behind dental caries and tension-type headache) with an estimated global prevalence of 14.7% (that’s around 1 in 7 people).
  • Migraine is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined.
  • Migraine costs the UK around £2.25 billion every year in absenteeism.
  • Migraine sufferers experience an average of 13 attacks each year.
  • The World Health Organisation has classified headache as a major health disorder and found it to be the sixth highest cause worldwide of years lost due to disability.
  • Migraine affects twice as many women as men.
  • Migraine affects people from all age groups (even young children).
  • Depression is three times more common in people with migraine or severe headaches than in healthy individuals.
  • There are many triggers for migraines, common ones include food (chocolate/cheese/alcohol), stress, sleep deprivation, dehydration, computer use and hormonal changes in women.
How can massage help?

In clinical studies, massage has been shown to reduce stress, improve sleep quality and shown significant reduction in the frequency and pain intensity of migraines. In one American study pain intensity was reduced by 71%.

As a therapist when treating someone with migraines my goals are to reduce myofascial tension and cranial compression. I’m happy to see someone during an episode so that I can see what helps and what doesn’t.

When finding a therapist to help with your migraine I would recommend a structural bodyworker, ideally with specific training in the subject who can work with the bony structures as well as soft tissue. It’s really about finding the right therapist for you so speak to them before you book.
Migraine symptoms, severity and triggers vary from person to person and so does the time it takes to treat. I have clients who report immediate benefits and some need more treatments.

How can you help yourself?

Prevention is better than cure, so as well as regular massage treatments, identify your triggers and avoid them as much as possible. Keep a migraine diary to help recognise triggers, what’s working and what isn’t and help to get an accurate diagnosis on the type of migraine, you can go to the Migraine trust and download a template here.

At the first sign of migraine, try some self-massage.

  • Starting at the bridge of your nose, massage your upper orbit (eye socket) with your thumb. Pressure should be quite strong.
  • Make circular movements at the temple.
  • Massage your jaw. Apply pressure to the TMJ (temporomandibular joint located just in front of the ear) while making exaggerated chewing motions.
  • Repeat as many times as necessary.

James Chapman offers myofascial release, sports and remedial massage and pregnancy massage. Find him at triyoga Chelsea on Sundays and Soho on Wednesdays. book now

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