We have all suffered from a headache at some time or another. And none of us like that feeling of ‘heavy head’ when waking up, or being grumpy because of head pain, not being able to focus at work or be able to socialise.

For some of us those headaches can become a frequent occurrence. Did you know that more than a third of men and more than half of women in developed countries suffer from chronic headaches, according to the World Health Organisation?

The two most common types of headache are tension headaches and migraines, which can occur occasionally or frequently. Chronic migraines are more than simply a bad headache; they may signal a more serious underlying neurological issue and we recommend consulting a doctor if you are experiencing regular migraines, especially when accompanied by additional symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, tingling or numbness in the hands or feet and sensitivity to sound, light or smells.

What are the causes of headaches?

The possible reasons for your headache are numerous and varied. When we are assessing someone who suffers from headaches or migraines, we check for:

  • Lack of sleep and rest (an old or bad mattress can contribute to that)
  • Over tense muscles in the upper back and neck area
  • Lack of hydration
  • Health of the eyes – tired eyes can lead to both headaches and migraines
  • Work setup
  • Stress, anxiety, or other emotional triggers
  • Hormones, especially periods or menopause can influence the intensity of the problem
  • Lack of vitamins or nutrients (we can refer to the GP for a blood test)

How can massage help headaches and migraines?

Often, we can find a mix of causes but, with the right therapy, we can significantly reduce the intensity and frequency of headaches or migraines. For example, where a person has frequent migraines and we find that the cause is over tense muscles combined with hormonal imbalance, then after a few massage sessions the frequency and the intensity can reduce by 50% – 70%. With headaches, we often see even better improvement when after a few massage sessions headaches are gone, sleep is deeper and mood is better.

This is backed up by research. Randomised clinical trials suggest that massage therapy might be equally effective as propranolol and topiramate in the preventative management of migraine. A study by the University of Miami School of Medicine reported how, compared to a control group, a massage treatment group who received two 30-minute massages per week for five weeks all reported fewer distress symptoms, less pain, more headache-free days, and fewer sleep disturbances, and they showed an increase in serotonin levels.

The main benefits of massage for headaches are: 

  • Massage stimulates the release of endorphins, natural painkillers that effectively reduce or eliminate both acute and chronic pain
  • Massage warms problem areas, helping to eliminate muscle spasms and tension, the most common causes of headaches
  • Massage improves blood circulation and oxygenates the cells
  • Regular massage sessions reduce overall stress, a key contributor to head pain