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Massaging Migraines Away

Several types of massage can be helpful in relieving the pain of migraine headaches. But there aren't enough studies to show how effective — or ineffective — these therapies are. Typically, migraine sufferers who benefit from massage use it as one component of their pain-relief plan, along with medications, lifestyle changes, and so on.

You may want to give some of the following massage options a try:

  • Craniosacral therapy: With this type of therapy, you lie back as a therapist gently massages your skull bones and your scalp. Your nerve endings get some touchy-feely attention, which soothes the nerves and lessens the pain waves they send.
  • Neuromuscular massage: This therapy, which is also known as trigger-point therapy, is a muscle-relaxing treatment that applies moderate pressure to your body's trigger points (spots in a muscle that, when stimulated by pressure or touch, are painful). Some believe that it can reduce nerve compression and relieve pain in tense or overworked muscles.
  • Reflexology: This therapy is based on the pressure and massage of points on the soles of the feet. The healing art of reflexology is often used to relieve stress and pain. For some headache sufferers, it's a godsend. It works on the idea that there are zones in the feet that correspond to all areas of the body. Therapists manipulate these zones, helping to benefit the corresponding areas throughout the rest of your body.
  • Deep-tissue massage therapy: People get massages to get rid of pain and discomfort or to just give themselves a relaxing treat. A massage therapist uses pressure, movement, and stretching to render your body more pliable and comfortable. For headaches, a therapist will usually use therapeutic, deep-tissue techniques. Deep-tissue massages may serve to improve circulation and help reduce muscle tension. When performing a deep-tissue massage, a massage therapist focuses on specific areas of the body to relieve pain and release stress. Many believe that massage can reduce muscle pain and ease muscle tension and stiffness. Deep tissue refers to the use of deep finger pressure and slow strokes on areas of the body that are suffering from muscle tension or aches.
    Because deep-tissue massage works well on tense shoulders and necks, it can sometimes provide relief from headache symptoms. (If you aren't sure whether your physical condition is amenable to massage, check with your doctor before having a massage. Massage isn't recommended if you have varicose veins, a recent fracture, sprain, or nerve injury, or if you've recently had chemotherapy or radiation.)
  • Acupressure: For headache relief, acupressure techniques are used to apply gentle finger pressure to various points on your head. It is believed that this therapy can help headache sufferers by calming muscle tension and enhancing blood circulation. In a more ethereal sense, some think that acupressure promotes self-healing of the body by re-establishing energy balance. At any rate, this therapy is painless. So if you want to try it, check with your physician. (He'll probably give you a go-ahead.)
    You can figure out how to perform a simple form of acupressure in minutes. Apply gentle and continuous fingertip pressure with two fingers for two to three minutes. Use one hand to work the top of your skull, and the other hand to apply pressure to the spot between your eyebrows. Of course, there are many other acupressure moves — you can get a book on the subject or have an acupressure practitioner take you through the steps.
  • Rolfing: This therapy is one of many variations on the theme of massage. Its roots go back to the belief that most of us become all choked up with muscle contractions, which throws our bodies off balance. By applying deep pressure to your muscles, a Rolfing practitioner may be able to ease your headache pain by ratcheting down the tautness of your muscles. For some people, Rolfing reduces pain. For others, Rolfing is too vigorous for their taste. Rolfing is not for the person who's put off by aggressive body manipulation. (Basically, Rolfing is massage that is taken to a tougher intensity level. It's not a surefire headache remedy, by any means.)

The pressure of any type of massage may cause some discomfort, but if you experience a great deal of pain, tell the therapist to stop. You may need to see your doctor for an evaluation.

Check with a local school of massage for the names of qualified therapists in your area. And when you're interviewing therapists, ask to see proof of membership in the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). Therapists with membership in this association have completed a training program approved by the Commission on Massage Training Accreditation/Approval, hold a state license that meets AMTA standards, and have passed an AMTA exam or the National Certification Examination for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. You can also find trained massage therapists on the AMTA Web site.

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