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Migraines and Massage: A Case Study

Migraines and Massage: A Case Study

Alisha Hayes

Imagine your alarm waking you up early, and before you begin to get out of bed you begin to feel a throbbing sensation throughout your head. As you sit up your stomach feels nauseous and your vision blurry. Getting ready to start your day you realize that your eyes are sensitive to the light. Has this ever happened to you? If so then you may be experiencing a migraine.

A Migraine is more complex than just a normal headache. Infact, its a neurological disease that changes the function and biology of the brain. Sometimes when one presents itself, it can hinder a person’s ability to do everyday activities. People will try typical remedies that ease pain by applying ice, heat, or taking medicines that claim are made to relieve the exact pain brought on by the migraine. What most people don't think about, and which can be very effective is massage.

Massage Therapy has a unique way of providing relief from migraines. Therapists who work with migraine sufferers use massage techniques such as circular friction on specific areas of the head to help improve blood circulation, and may use myofascial release and trigger point therapy to release the tension and aid in relaxation.

Specific release techniques can include the sub-occipital release.  When this is performed, clients often feel the need to hold their heads up, believing they need to help the therapist when in actuality their relaxing into the therapist's fingers will actually help the release.  By relaxing the head and neck, the therapist is able to feel the tension in the soft tissue break down and the clients head will slowly lower towards the table.  Sometimes this technique is done more than one time to allow other tension areas to relax.  Once the head lowers to the table easily, then the therapist knows the tissue is relaxed and can move on to other areas. 

As an LMT,  I find so many of my clients suffer from either sinus headaches, tension headaches, or migraines. Having an understanding of all the muscle groups in the head and neck, as well as being able to communicate it with my clients is what makes them see what I feel. Once I am able to express how the trigger point is transferring the pain to where they are feeling it, then I know the client will have an easier time relaxing and then achieve better results. 

I had a client come to me one day and said, “I don’t know why, but I have so much pain in my eyes it’s affecting my work day.” After I had worked on their head, neck, and shoulders, I asked them to keep a track of their pain for the next 6 days and return to see me on the 7th day to work through more. So they kept a paper in their pocket and wrote a scale 1 (being NO PAIN) to 5 (being HORRIBLE) for those 6 days. On the 7th day they came back with the paper and I saw amazing numbers. Days one through three were at a level 1 which to my surprise was incredible, day four was a level 2. When looking at days five and six it read a pain of 4.

Seeing the relief this client had after only one session made me realize massage is going to change this person’s work and personal life. The client saw me weekly for the next month and tracked pain levels throughout that time. The client's results got better and better and they were able to go to a monthly maintenance program to maintain the improvements achieved.

Massage can be a powerful tool to treatment of headaches as well as other health issues.  Before I became a licensed massage therapist, I suffered from migraines myself for years, but now I keep up on them with my massages in a monthly routine and experience a much healthier and happier me.

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