Fewer Migraines with Massage Therapy

Healthnotes Newswire (September 14, 2006)—Massage might be more than just relaxing for migraine sufferers: new research suggests that it might reduce the frequency of their headaches.

About 18% of women and 7% of men in the United States suffer from migraines. Believed to be caused by rapid changes in the blood flow to the head, migraines are usually marked by severe headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Stress and lack of sleep are common triggers for migraines and aggravate the symptoms once they have set in. Migraines are often debilitating for their duration, which can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Many people who get migraines seek out nondrug therapies because the medications typically used to treat migraine can cause serious side effects. People with stomach inflammation (gastritis), peptic ulcers, and cardiovascular disease, as well as pregnant or breast-feeding women, are often unable to use migraine medications. Long-term frequent use of pain relievers and some other medications used to treat migraines can cause more headaches, known as medication overuse headaches, which are far more difficult to treat than migraines.

Many migraine sufferers seek relief through massage therapy. Massage can bring about a quieting of the central nervous system known as the “relaxation response,” relax tight muscles than can trigger migraine, reduce sensations of pain and stress, and possibly improve sleep. Little research has been done into the effects of massage therapy in people with migraines.

The most recent study was published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Forty-four people with a history of migraine headaches kept daily journals of their symptoms for 13 weeks; the randomly chosen massage group received a 45-minute massage every week from week five to week ten, but the control group did not.

Compared with the control group, the massage group experienced better sleep quality and fewer migraines both during the massage therapy phase and in the three weeks after therapy ended. They also reported slightly lower levels of stress and greater coping abilities, but this difference was not statistically significant.

“This is the first evidence that massage therapy may reduce migraine frequency beyond the end of treatment,” the authors stated in their conclusion, “and research is now needed to further evaluate the durability of these effects.”

“The results of this study reflect the experience of many of my clients who report that massage seems to help reduce the frequency of migraines,” said Briane Pinkson, a licensed practical nurse and massage therapist. “Massage also helps them cope when headaches do occur,” she added.

(Ann Behav Med 2006;32:50–9)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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