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Benefits of Massage for Headaches

Most people have suffered from a headache at some point in their lives, whether it is a tension headache, migraine or as a result of an injury to the head or neck. Headaches can be quite debilitating, resulting in an inability to work or participate in recreational activities.

Tension Headaches

The most common type of headache is tension headaches with approximately 76% of people suffering from a tension headache every year1. Tension headaches can be caused from trauma, such as whiplash, muscle spasms, overuse and incorrect posture or stress2.  Massage therapy treatment focusing on the neck and shoulders has been shown to decrease both the frequency and intensity of tension headaches3.


Migraines are another type of headache that are more severe in nature and are characterized by throbbing moderately intense pain, usually on one side of the head. The cause of this type of headache is thought to be genetic and/or environmental in nature4. Studies have shown that massage therapy can reduce the symptoms of migraines, decrease the amount of migraines that people get and decrease sleep disturbances that can occur with migraines5.

Massage Therapy Can Help

Regardless of the cause, headaches can be painful and can affect quality of life. More and more people are turning to massage therapy to help them manage their headache symptoms. Since massage therapy can reduce the amount of pain people feel it becomes a great treatment option that is non-pharmaceutical. Typically massage treatment for headaches involves massage of the shoulders, upper back and neck. Often heat is used to decrease muscle tension and stretching exercises are given to increase mobility and further reduce muscle tension. 

Headaches are sometimes a warning sign of a more serious medical condition. It’s important to tell your RMT of any symptoms you have along with the headaches you are experiencing.

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1.  Jensen, R., Olesen, J., Rasmussen, B., Schroll, M.  Epidemiology of headache in a general population—A prevalence study. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 1991 Vol 44 (11) 1147-1157 accessed

2.  Vizniak, N. (2015). Quick Reference Evidence Informed Orthopedic Conditions. Professional Health Systems Inc. p.48-52

3. Chandler, C., & Moraska, A. (2008) Changes in Clinical Parameters in Patients with Tension-type Headache Following Massage Therapy: A Pilot Study, Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 16:2, 106-112, accessed


5. Diego, M., Dieter, J., Field, T., Hernandez-reif, M. & Swerdlow, B. (1998) Migraine Headaches are Reduced by Massage Therapy, International Journal of Neuroscience, 96:1-2, 1-11 accessed