An estimated 45 million Americans complain of headaches annually, which makes it the most common complaint or symptom in medicine today. The pain can range from mild annoyance to a debilitating migraine that feels like someone stuck an ice pick through your brain. Additionally, headaches can interfere with productivity, concentration, and overall quality of life.
When you have a headache, it can be hard to function normally until you find relief. But treatments vary from myths and anecdotes to medical facts, and it's difficult to know which techniques are actually helpful. Not every remedy works on every type of headache. Let's look at the different types of headaches and treatments available, including massage. Before we take a look at the most common types of headaches including tension, sinus, migraine, dehydration, cluster, injury and medication-induced headaches, I want to highlight the fact that is some cases headaches can be the result of a more serious issue (such as an aneurysm, stroke or high, uncontrolled blood pressure).
Tension Headaches - As the name suggests, tension headaches are the result of holding tension in your body. Holding stress in your shoulders, clenching your jaw or grinding your teeth, and spending too much time staring at a computer screen or a smart phone can all lead to tension headaches. Tension headaches mainly occur in the temples or the forehead and often feel like a vice grip around your head. They range from mild to severe and are most commonly treated with over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Sinus Headaches - Nasal congestion and inflammation from allergies or sinusitis can cause your nasal passages to swell. This blocks the nasal cavity and prevents mucus from being able to drain. Sinus headaches are generally located in the front of the face, between your eyes and/or cheekbones. Taking an antihistamine or other allergy medication for allergy induced sinus headaches can help prevent them from occurring. Mild sinus headaches that result from a sinus infection can sometimes be cleared up by rinsing your nasal passage using a neti-pot or saline rinse. More severe sinus infections will require antibiotics and possibly OTC pain medication.
Migraines - Typically occurring on one side of the head, migraines affect approximately 35 million people in the US. Symptoms include pulsing, and can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and/or sound, and hallucinations (like auras or halos). Some people experience migraines only rarely, while other people experience them on an near daily basis. These types of headaches can be debilitating and most likely to interfere with quality of life. Mild migraine headaches can sometimes be managed with NSAIDS (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) while more moderate and severe migraines might require prescription medication. Botox is another treatment option that has been proven effective in clinical trials. However, it is best to consult your doctor before deciding if this is the best treatment option for you.
Cluster - As the name suggests, these headaches usually happen in clusters or cyclical periods ranging from weeks to months, followed by long periods of remission. Cluster headaches usually present as pain around or behind the eye that can often wake you up in the middle of the night. During an episode, cluster headaches will occur daily or sometimes multiple times a day and can last from 15 minutes to 3 hours. Due to the rapid and intense onset of this type of headache, you may feel exhausted once the headache has disappeared. Treatment options for cluster headaches include prescription medication, injectables such as Botox and oxygen therapy.
Secondary Headaches - These are not conditions themselves, but symptoms of other conditions. Secondary headaches can be the result of dehydration, medication or caffeine misuse/overuse, head injury, or illness such as pink-eye (conjunctivitis) and meningitis. Pain from secondary headaches can successfully be managed with NSAIDs. However it's important to focus on getting the appropriate medical treatment for any underlying condition.
Can Massage Help?
Tension headaches, the type of headaches people are most likely to experience, seem to respond well to massage therapy. Not only does massage often seem to reduce pain in the moment, but consistent massage therapy also appears to increase the amount of time between headaches for those who experience them on a chronic basis. This may be a result of helping to manage stress. Or it may be that it helps resolve the underlying mechanical issues resulting in headaches. There's no solid science yet on precisely why massage helps; only that it does.
More good news! It probably doesn't surprise anyone that people who experience regular headaches are also more likely to experience high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies have found that massage can help with these issues, not just for the general population, but also specifically for people who live with chronic headaches.
Some people with secondary headaches can also benefit from massage. Those with fibromyalgia, for example, who often experience headaches as part of their condition, can experience both pain and stress relief with regular massage therapy. While massage during a flare-up of symptoms may need to be modified to be more gentle, some people find that it can provide relief for headaches, as well as for pain throughout the body.
Massage therapy is wonderful and often helpful, but it's not a cure for headaches. While some people just need a bit of rest or a drink of water (dehydration is a surprisingly common cause of headaches), other people continue to experience headaches their whole lives. While people who experience headaches caused by stress or muscular tension can and will absolutely benefit from massage, migraines triggered by things like foods or hormonal changes probably won't notice any effect.
There are some times when getting a massage for headaches is more than just unhelpful, it's actually dangerous. Most often, this will be related to secondary headaches. Fevers, for example, often cause headaches as well as achy joints. While this could lead someone to want to receive massage, it not only risks overly stressing a body that's already fighting off an infection, but it also has the possibility of spreading the illness to the massage therapist and anyone else they come into contact with. Another example, such as headaches resulting from a recent head, neck, or back injury could also be made worse by a well-meaning massage therapist.
When there is the possibility of pain being caused by an illness or injury, it's best to seek out a physician's opinion first. They can provide or recommend appropriate care for the issue causing the headache in the first place, and at that point you can ask them about whether it would be okay to receive a massage. It's always better to be safe than sorry!
While we massage therapists are still exploring the use and efficacy of techniques like trigger point therapy and myofascial work for tension headaches, many people find the results are worth paying a professional. And even if massage does not help your headaches, you might find that the soothing experience of a massage is a nice tradeoff while you seek other headache relief.
If you are ready to schedule a session with me, click here.
Below is a video of me demonstrating a qigong neck stretch that may help with some tension headaches.
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I have been practicing massage therapy for 11 years now. I’ve been reflecting on what initially drew me to this practice and why I love doing it. The profoundness I find in this work is both humbling and empowering. In hopes of connecting with you a bit more, I want to share some of these insights.
So why do I do this work?
It gives me purpose
I know what it's like to struggle with chronic pain and discomfort. It depletes your energy and gets in the way of daily living and as a massage therapist, I want to help my clients in alleviating their pain. This process of helping my clients with pain management and stress relief gives me great purpose.
I like to use my hands
I always knew that I was a tactile person that enjoyed using my hands. As an active person drawn to movement and touch, I find massage incredibly grounding and centering. I also enjoy using the power of touch to calm the nervous system and help my clients feel grounded as well.
There is a touch deficiency in the world
I can feel around me that our society is touch deprived and I believe that massage can offer a safe and therapeutic space to address that. Through massage I am able to process my own touch deficiency and hopefully help others that deal with this in a professional setting.
I like puzzles and mysteries
When I work with a client, it's a bit like solving a puzzle as I learn what their body needs to feel its best. This intuitive problem solving aspect of massage is stimulating and exciting to me. Massage at its best, is a collaborative process where I help my clients find solutions to recurring issues in the body.
I do well in small group settings, and best in one on one
As someone with ADHD, I’ve always preferred one on one connections over being in large groups. Massage allows me to focus on a single client and purpose: helping them feel better in their body. This is another reason why I love massage, it provides me with focused work and allows me to build impactful relationships with my clients.
I am a muscle geek
As a kid, I was fascinated by anatomy and science. To this day, I am constantly seeking to learn more about the human body and how to best tend to it. Learning new massage techniques is something I take great pleasure in and I’ve studied trigger point, myofascial release, sport massage and prenatal massage. I am in the process of learning more about oncology massage and lymphatic massage.
I am really good at it
Developing my massage skills over the past 11 years has allowed me to help numerous people. Every time someone leaves a session feeling relieved and more comfortable in their body, it gives me added motivation to continue my work.
I know that I’m a talented massage therapist and using my skills to help others brings me incredible joy and happiness. I look forward to sharing my skills and passion with you.
For most people, money is the biggest obstacle to getting regular massage. We don’t like to talk about money, it’s supposed to be a private issue. But I’m going to address it head on. Regular massage is a considerable budget item, and it’s important to acknowledge that.
If I expect you to jiggle the numbers and budget $130 for a massage every week, month, or quarter, it’s my job to tell you what you’re buying. So here it is, what you get from a 1 hour, $130 massage.
Clarity in Pricing
What I charge is clearly listed here.
Gratuity is accepted and appreciated, but not required.
A Full Hour
1 hour = 60 minutes. The clock doesn’t start until I walk in the room and lay my hands.
That’s not the case for every business. Massage Envy’s hour is 50 minutes. Elements gives you 55 minutes.
Even some spas and chiropractic centers operate on a 50-minute hour. But in my office, 30, 60, 90, and 120 minute treatments last exactly as long as indicated. (Unless you’re late, then I may have to adjust accordingly.)
Ease of Scheduling
Scheduling tends to be the second biggest obstacle to getting regular massage. We never think of scheduling massage at a time that is actually convenient to call. I take all that out of the equation to make it easier for both of us. No phone tag. No waiting for a message reply.
You can schedule with me online right here.
You get my full and undivided attention. For a whole hour, you are center of the universe - the star! You are the reason we’re in the room.
Need silence? You got it!
Want me to spend the full hour on your feet? Absolutely!
Music request? Sure!
Extra pillow? No problem!
You get your own full attention. No phone. No demands. Just you.
I’ve had 10 years of practice and hours of continuing education. They were all just prep for your massage.
I know how to work with fascia in the traps, scalenes, and occipitals to relieve tension headaches. I know how to release a hypertonic subscapularis muscle that is causing arm and shoulder pain and tingling in the fingers. I have trigger point techniques for back pain caused by tight hips muscles. I could go on, but you get the picture.
I won’t practice any techniques that are unsafe for you and your health condition.
I will not use joint movements if you have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I will use safe pressure around your spine if you have degerative disc disease. I will not use deep pressure in any particularly swollen area, because I do not want to cause damage to your lymph system. And if I see any signs of deep vein thrombosis, I will avoid that area and inform you immediately and encourage you to get it checked it asap.
I’ll say it again. I won’t practice any techniques that are unsafe for you and your health condition.
There are plenty of massage therapists offering discounted massage, operating under the radar.
If a therapist is operating without all the proper licenses, their insurance will be voided in the event of a claim. That can be super scary.
You can check my certification anytime with California Massage Therapy Council (CAMTC).
I have and keep liability insurance coverage through ABMP (Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals) with Allied Professionals.
High-quality massage oil
I only use the best products on your skin. I use first-pressed jojoba, and it’s not exactly an oil. It’s an ester that is very similar to our naturally produced sebum. It is non-comedogenic, so it will not clog your pores. And it is hypoallergenic, so no worries if you have any topical allergies.
You get to support a small local business
It’s just me! No conglomerate. No fancy management structure or corporate set up. Just a little business owner, paying her taxes, making a living, and participating in the same communities she serves. When you pay $130 for a massage with me, you know that money is staying in the local economy.
All that, from a $130 massage. :)
A massage is generally intended to be a calm and relaxing experience. However, if it’s your first massage, you may feel a little apprehensive.
Let me help with that uncertainty by sharing some information about what to expect. You’ll be able to walk into your first massage feeling confident!
When you book your appointment, you’ll fill out an intake form including information about yourself, your health history, and what your body may experience on a daily basis. Your clear and honest answers will help me perform the best massage possible for you.
Expect several questions at your first massage appointment. I may need to know a little bit more about your health history.
We’ll also talk about why you’re coming in for a massage and what your goals are for the session. Are you having pain? Do you need to relax?
I’ll show you the massage room and walk you through the process. We’ll decide what to prioritize and how you should lay on the table (face up or face down, or on your side) before the massage.
Expect to Dress or Undress to Your Level of Comfort
What does that mean exactly? Many people worry about having to be undressed for their massage. Most massage techniques are traditionally performed with the client unclothed; however, what you wear is entirely up to you. Simply put: you can leave your underwear on or take them off.
I’ll leave the room so you can undress, get on the massage table (it’s super cozy), and get comfortable under the sheet & blanket.
Movies and TV shows often show massage clients naked on a table with just a tiny towel for draping, and that is rarely what real massage draping looks like. I use sheets that cover your whole body. You’ll stay covered throughout the massage, I’ll only undrape the part of your body that I am massaging right then.
Expect More Communication
When I come back into the room, I’ll help you get comfortable by adjusting or adding pillows or bolsters. I will ask about the temperature of the table and ask if you’d like the warmer turned up or down. Don’t be afraid to adjust and fidget as needed during the massage to stay comfy.
It’s awesome if you can let your body relax and sink into the table. If I need to move your arms or legs, etc, I prefer to do the work! This takes practice, and you’ll probably try to help me. And I’ll try to remind you. ;)
It’s really important for you to tell me if any massage techniques I use cause pain. Pain is not okay.
There is likely to be a certain level of discomfort and ‘hurts-so-good’ sensation if we’re working on a problem area. And it’s important that you tell me about that, too, so we can tailor the massage to be most effective without causing injury.
I’ll check in with you as we go, but please speak up if you get too warm or too cold, if the face cradle needs adjusting, if you are not comfortable on the table, if you need another pillow, or if you just hate the music! (I do take music requests)
I’ll let you know when the massage is over and then leave the room so you can slowly get up and dressed.
Expect Some Final Instructions
Depending of the kind of work we did, you should generally expect to feel mellow and relaxed after your massage. You may also feel like you can move a little easier. We’ll talk about how you feel and I may show you some self care stretches or share some tips to keep you feeling great between appointments. If you’d like, we can also talk about how frequently you may want to get massage to keep on feeling great.
If we addressed pain issues, you may immediately feel a decrease in pain, or it might take a day or two before you feel that relief.
You’ve already made the first step in making the most of your first massage by learning what to expect. Next, when you come in, you can ask all the questions you like! That way we can make sure you feel comfortable before, during, and after the session.
See you at your first massage! :)