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Remedial Massage & Headache Relief

by Greg Morling

Based on the studies from the USA it can be deduced that the following statistics would apply to Australia:

  • 4.9 million Australians experience migraine (Migraine in Australia Whitepaper, Deloitte Access Economics Report, 2018).
  • prevalence of migraine increases from 12 years to about 40 years and declines thereafter in both sexes.
  • up to seven million tension-type headache sufferers (36% for men and 42% for women
  • nearly all those with migraine and 60% of those with tension-type headache experience reductions in social activities and work capacity.
  • the direct and indirect costs of migraine alone would be about $35.7 billion pa (Migraine in Australia, Deloitte Access Economics Report, 2018).

Whether the root of the problem is hereditary, environmental or due to lifestyle factors, your client or patient is searching for one thing – relief, and massage therapists are in a great position to help, as the brief example shows later in the is article. Research suggests that even a short 30 minute massage can improve headache pain.

Common Headache Types


Bone misalignment, muscle tension, eye-strain and other musculo-skeletal inbalances can trigger these. They can be infrequent (a few times a month), frequent (less than 15 a month), or chronic, which occurs more than 15 times a month.

VASCULAR HEADACHES (Classic migraine, aura-less common migraine, cluster headaches and sinus headaches)

All these are characterized by ‘pounding feeling’ and are usually more severe than with tension-type, and are longer lasting – anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to three days. While the exact cause of these headaches are unknown, changes such as swelling or vasodilation of the blood vessels can sometimes be an onset and some argue that the effects of food can also be a contributing factor. It has also been noted that stress, bright lights, lack of sleep and medications can also be triggers for vascular headaches.


While rare, this kind of headache could be caused by a bacterial or viral issue. Symptoms could include slurred speech, numbness in the body and difficulties in motor control. Possible causes could include meningitis, stroke or a tumor.

Common massage techniques that help headache pain

It must be stressed that for massage to be effective, the therapist needs to understand and make an assessment of the headache and to refer conditions of unknown origin to a doctor. Taking this into consideration, here are several techniques (all of which I demonstrate in my present workshops) that I consider helpful.

  • Trigger point on selective trapezius fibres, and in particular,
  • Occipital ridge including hand a warm towel traction.
  • Sinus drainage (with or without cupping process)
  • Directed head massage
  • Thermal stone variations with trapezius/SCM stretching
  • Gait and postural analysis
  • Use of essential oils

At times, it seems quite inane to describe these techniques for headaches, as your approach will be different for every client and the success you have will rely on what your touch tells you. There are very few more pertinent examples than how we work as an art and a science when we address headaches.

Last night I answered an emergency from a client; Damien had such limited neck movement that I really felt that he would not be able to play in his competitive soccer team today. I applied several of the technique mentioned above for over an hour. Despite the fact that I warned against it, Damien played with his team today. He lost the game, but told me tonight he had played without restriction or pain.

Underestimating the therapeutic competence in the hands of massage therapists, especially in the hands of experienced massage elders, ignores the successful role our work can do as health professionals relieving and eliminate the pain of headache.

Included in my workshops this year is one on headaches as well as several other topics. These can be seen at or by contacting me on 0409600300.


1 Wolff’s Headache and Other Head Pain 7th ed – S.D Silberstein, R.B Lipton, D.J Dalession 2001

Moore CS., Sibbritt DW, Adams J (2017, March) A critical review of manual therapy for headache disorders; prevalence, motivations, communication and self-reported effectiveness. BMC Neurology.17:61. PMC

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