Migraines suck! After watching my mother suffer with them throughout my childhood, I’m so grateful that I’ve never had one. But seeing first hand what kind of pain and suffering they inflict has made me very keen to help migraineurs in whatever small way I can. So, I try to keep up on the latest research and find as many resources for my migraine clients as I can.
Recently, I’ve seen several massage therapists on social media claim that they can stop your migraines in their tracks, and one even promised to cure them for you. They may mean well, they may simply be misinformed, or they may be outright charlatans. I don’t know. What I do know is that their claims amount to one thing: Baloney.
Migraine disease is not simply a condition in which you get really bad headaches. It’s a complicated neurological disorder. This means that massage cannot get rid of migraine headaches. It can help in many ways, but it won’t cure you.
How Massage Can Help Migraines
Relieves muscle tension – Pain causes muscular tension and spasm which causes more pain – we call this the pain/spasm/pain cycle. Massage can work proactively to keep your muscle tension low, so that when you get a migraine headache you’re less likely to have a simultaneous tension headache as well. Keeping your muscle tension low also means the pain/spasm/pain cycle starts on a lower peg. Remember though, people and migraines vary so it may or may not result in a huge reduction of pain for you… therefore results will vary not only by person but also by migraine episode. But hey, I know you want less pain so isn’t it worth finding out how well you respond?
Remove the tension headache portion of a mixed migraine – Many massage therapists specialize in relieving tension headaches. We’re really good at it too, because tension headaches are caused by muscle tension. If you get a lot of tension headaches, you should definitely be getting massage to help lower their frequency and/or intensity. Often with regular massage, in addition to improved stress management, you may be able to bring your tension headache rate down to the healthy range of less than 1 per month.
Relieve stress. Stress is not a migraine trigger, but it does make you more susceptible to your triggers. To be fair, massage isn’t going to make all your stress disappear, but it will quiet the stress response that’s currently going on in your body. Getting regular massage for stress relief can be of real benefit, especially when coupled with other stress management techniques. I hope it’s obvious, but this is meant to be a preventive strategy, not one you employ when you feel a migraine headache coming on.
The Point of No Return
Most migraineurs have a point of no return. Exactly what and when that point is will vary from person to person and migraine to migraine. Once you reach that point, nothing anyone does is going to do any good, no matter how much you want them to help. A few of the most common characteristics of that point are:
Your (usually effective) abortive medicine doesn’t work
You’re nauseous or already vomiting – If you’re vomiting and need pain relief, please go to the ER; they’re much better equipped to handle that than a massage therapist.
You can’t tolerate normal light levels
You can’t tolerate normal sound levels
You can’t tolerate normal smells
If you’ve reached the point of no return, you’re better off either going to the ER or riding out the storm in a quiet, dark room. At that point, coming in for a massage could actually make you feel worse, and neither of us wants that.