Therapeutic Massages

What is a therapeutic massage?

One of the basic human instinct is the primitive body need to be rubbed or touched in the areas where we are hurt, similar to the primitive need of sleeping and eating. In fact, remote cave paintings from over 15,000 years ago already depicted massages being applied on individuals. A 4,000 years old Chinese medical book even outlined massages as a therapeutic treatment. Many famous historic physicians such as Galen and Salsas as well as famous modern physicians such as Kandel and Sudderth advocated massage therapy as an appropriate treatment.

Massage therapy as an appropriate treatment protocol for migraine headaches has re-emerge over the last decade or two and about 80 various methods and approaches have been classified as massage therapy over the past 20 years.

Swedish massage

“Swedish massage,” using a system of long strokes, kneading, mild friction and pressure therapy is one of the more notable massage therapy treatment. The massage therapy is often applied in the direction of blood flow toward the heart, with the masseuse usually massaging the muscles that are associated with passive and active movements at the joints. The focus of the Swedish massage is frequently on general relaxation which is beneficial in helping to relieve tension and reduce stress.

Deep tissue massage

Deep tissue massage is often performed with a much greater pressure as opposed to the lighter Swedish massage. Deep tissue massage places more focus on chronic pain management through reducing muscle tension. This is evident by the treatment of direct pressure release, slow strokes, and friction across muscle planes.

Neuromuscular massage

Then there is the newer type of massage therapy known ad neuromuscular massage which focuses on increasing blood flow and reducing muscle spasm and muscle cramping . It is quite effective in releasing trigger points and in releasing tension, pressure and entrapment of nerves caused by contraction of soft tissue.

Pressure point massage and myofascial release

Both pressure point massage and myofascial release are often different variations of neuromuscular massage.

How does massage work?

The way massage therapy works appears to have a three-pronged mechanism of action, any one of which can be beneficial in the reduction of headache pain. However it is believed that the combination of all three actions that can bring out the most positive outcome.

First, therapeutic massage is an inherent relaxation for patients. By just the simple act of presenting themselves for massage, myofascial release and manipulative care, the patients are already getting themselves away from their routine stressful environment and placing themselves under a non-stressful, calm, quiet, darkened and relaxing environment. This simple change alone has positive effects such as:

  • removing possible headache triggers
  • removing exogenous and environmental stressors
  • allowing to refocus on pain reduction rather than on daily life stressors and routine environment.

Second, preparing for therapeutic massage and actually receiving the massage is often relaxing as well as reducing stress and anxiety. Those suffering from a severe migraine headache can often testify that the acute anxiety associated with the migraine headache itself is a major problem especially when a migraine symptom first presents. This acute anxiety can eventually lead to a rebound phenomenon together with additional release of stress chemicals (adrenalin, catecholamines) as well as a buildup of waste products and toxins. These usually result from prolonged muscle spasm, muscle contraction, tissue breakdown, and release of lactic acid and other such toxins into the system.

The combination of all these factors further aggravates the headache pain. On the other hand, by minimizing the anxiety, the adrenalin and stress chemicals often associated with anxiety can also be reduced. This in turn usually leads to pain reduction and certainly can also lead towards the reduction of the severity and duration of the migraine headache.

The third which is possibly the most effective mechanism of action and therapeutic massage, is the physical trigger release, myofascial release and the direct muscle anti-inflammatory effect of the massage itself.
The actual massage itself can help in breaking down tissue triggers that are also often seen in both migraine and chronic daily headache sufferers. Additionally, improvement in flexibility and range of motion, decrease in spasm and muscle triggers (mini-spasm in the muscle) in direct response to therapeutic massage are often seen.

A massage focusing directly over the neck and shoulder region can help in reducing local triggers and in turn enabling relaxation in the other body muscles. This result in avoiding muscle tightening throughout the body.

Massage is a healing therapy that works by improving circulation in and around the muscles. This helps in eliminating the buildup of toxins and waste products such as lactic acid. With the avoidance or removal of these waste products, the muscles that are tense, overworked and contracted can then relax; and ultimately one can possibly break the headache cycle.

Just as every physician is different, every massage therapist can also be different. Hence if there are individual practices, techniques or protocols that seem to be more suitable and work better for you, it is crucial that you communicate this to your massage therapist.

Any massage techniques that seem to increase pain or discomfort should also be avoided and again you should communicate this information to the massage therapist. Always remember that therapeutic intervention is a team approach and requires you to participate as an active member of the team.