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Keeping in Touch: How Massage Therapy Can Help Your Migraines

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I have been a massage therapist for 15 years, and I love to help dissolve pain. I believe that joy, freedom, strength, and mobility are normal states of being for humans -- anything that deviates is the body shouting for help. Pain, vomiting, dizziness -- not to mention irritability -- are just a few of the symptoms I've heard about from clients who suffer from migraines. There is no worse feeling in the world than not knowing how to help. Dreaded, unpredictable, and even demobilizing in some cases, I felt so relieved when a study was published with real findings on the effect that massage can have on relieving migraines.

Performed by the University of Miami School of Medicine, as published by the International Journal of Neuroscience, two groups of migraine suffers were studied. The first group (control group) took their prescribed medicine for the entire month, but did not receive massage therapy. The second group took their prescribed medicine as well, but also received a weekly massage. 60% of the massaged group had absolutely no migraines or headaches for the entire month. The massage therapy also helped to alleviate sleep problems and increased serotonin levels.

The University of Miami played around with several different protocols in treating the migraine sufferers. They found the most success with the following treatment regime: between migraine attacks, deep tissue work around the base of the skull, neck, shoulders, and upper back helped to relieve tension contributing to the recurrence of migraines. A side note with regard to deep tissue work: I would never let a massage therapist go deeper on you than you can tolerate comfortably and in a relaxed way. If you can feel your body tensing, your jaw grinding, your heart racing, these are a few red flags that you are likely producing cortisol and other hormones associated with stress, thereby creating diminishing returns for yourself in the form of even more tension -- and possibly an aversion to massage. If it were me on the massage table, I would say, "Too much!" or "easy there", "back off, bruiser", or even the old favorite, "Uncle!"

When a migraine sets in, the scientists at the University of Miami had the most success with the sufferers face up only. Deep massage anywhere near the head at this time worsened the migraine. Light touch brought on relief. However, stimulation of the hands and feet with circulation enhancing massage helped to draw blood (and pressure) from the head to the extremities, alleviating the pain significantly.

I have witnessed this protocol work well time and again, and it's such a gift for me, the massage therapist, but it's even more of a relief (obviously) for my client. Massage is an ancient skill practiced and treasured by nearly every culture in the world throughout history. It is also quite a natural means of self-healing and connecting with friends and partners. If you suffer from migraines, find a qualified masseuse -- or someone who cares about you enough to muscle through a thorough massage. I know migraine sufferers who have found great healing when a migraine comes on by having a manicure and pedicure with a hands and feet massage included. I hope this helps, and please -- stay in touch.