Can I Use Massage to Relieve My Headache?
Can I use massage to relieve my headache? We consult an expert to find out.
We all know the therapeutic benefits of relaxation therapy, but can you use massage to relieve headaches and migraines in addition to reducing stress?
Massage therapist Sally Chamness says headaches can be a symptom of many different things, from dehydration to hormonal imbalances, from tension to more serious neurological conditions.
"Massage can be great for relieving stress and tension headaches," she says. "The most common areas that cause headaches are tension in the jaw, temples, neck or shoulders."
Want the really good news? When you can't find a massage therapist, you can do it yourself at home. Head massage in particular has also been shown to lower blood pressure, improve blood circulation and support hair growth, so read on to find out how it works.
If you also suffer from stubborn knots or muscle aches, check out the Best Massage Guns for self-massage tools you can use at home.
Can I use a massage to relieve a headache?
So how does a headache relief massage work?Chamness says it relieves tension in the neck and head muscles. "Constant stress can cause these muscles to remain contracted, which can lead to pain and injury," she says. "By encouraging relaxation of these muscles, we can relieve the pain and radiating pain caused by tension."
Chamness says that whether you have a tension headache, cluster headache - a sharp pain on one side of the head, usually around the eyes - or a migraine, slow, firm and relaxed techniques are usually the most beneficial
"This is because when you have a headache, mild irritating movements can increase the pain or cause irritation."
A study published in the Journal of Headache and Pain showed that massage therapy had a significant effect on pain intensity, reducing it by 71%. another study in the American Journal of Public Health found that massage was effective in treating chronic tension headaches.
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What are the benefits of head massage?
Chamness says that when it comes to headaches, massage is a great way to relieve them without medication. But there are many other benefits to head massage.
Chamness says that relaxing the muscles in the head, neck and face allows for better circulation in the head. "This helps relieve people with headaches and even though the technique focuses on the head, it can benefit the whole body."
She adds that the relaxing effect of head massage helps the whole body relax, increasing levels of the "feel good" neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, while lowering levels of cortisol, our stress hormone.
"When muscles are attached to the face, neck and scalp, they can cause the tissues to tighten, leading to pain and discomfort, which can lead to headaches," says Chamness. "By massaging the muscles around the temples, chin and neck, we can relax them and prevent pulling and tugging."
As well as having a direct effect on muscle tension, massage to the head, when done slowly but firmly, can trigger relaxation and relieve stress, she says. The parasympathetic nervous system then kicks in and calms us down.
In contrast, a lighter, faster-paced massage to the head can be very stimulating. "It increases the flow of blood to the scalp and hair follicles, which promotes hair growth," says Chamness. "It even helps stimulate the brain - perfect for those who are tired from studying."
In fact, a small study in 2016 found that after 24 weeks of daily scalp massage, participants had thicker hair.
Lower blood pressure
Massage can even help prevent high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and other chronic conditions. This is partly because massage can help calm the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight or flight response when the body thinks we are in a dangerous or stressful situation.
"The release of endorphins during massage relaxes the blood vessels in the body, which reduces the pressure within the blood vessels and arteries, decreasing the strength or pressure on the heart and slowing the heart rate," explains Chamness.
Although research is quite limited, a study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that both 15 and 25 minutes of head massage lowered blood pressure in female participants.
How to give yourself a head massage
For tension headaches: Place your fingers flat on your temples and move them slowly in a circular motion.
For cluster headaches: pinch the bridge of the nose and slowly follow the line of the eyebrows to help reduce the tension around the eyes and sinuses.
For stress-induced headaches: circular movements of the fingertips from the cheekbone down to the chin can relieve the tension caused by stress and clenching of the teeth."
As for migraines, Chamness says they are often caused by a chemical or hormonal imbalance in the body, so self-massage won't necessarily help relieve the condition. However, it can help reduce the stress and tension that the body experiences from migraines.