Headaches – Massage or Medication?

Luke Norland writes on how massage can benefit headache sufferers:

Your body can produce its own biochemical prescriptions to alleviate the pain and discomfort of headaches, ranging from migraine to tension headaches.  Pharmaceutical drugs are modeled on actual physiological processes that occur naturally.  So, it is perfectly possible for your body to produce its own pain-relieving endorphins without taking painkillers.  The aim of massage, especially using trigger point therapy, is to stimulate changes in the patient’s body.  This precipitates a move towards a more balanced state- restoring homeostasis.  This is a term used to describe the body’s ability to respond to the challenges it meets with a dynamic and appropriate response.  So many of its processes go unobserved (i.e. in the autonomic nervous system) and are absolutely vital in the smooth-functioning of our organism.trigger-point-massage-could-help-ease-your-headache-pain_d

Treatments:

A long-term patient, who has suffered migraine throughout her adult life, recently turned a corner towards reducing her medication.  She has learned alternative methods to vanquish the rapid onset of symptoms.  Self-activating trigger points in the neck, combined with a focus on diaphragm breathing have helped her to dissociate from the panic and helplessness she used to experience when an attack came on.  This mind-body awareness is promoted during the course of regularly receiving remedial massage.  Being able to reduce medication has been very liberating, not least for getting rid of the undesirable side effects of drugs.  Learning what triggers a headache is key to understanding how to re-wire the body’s neural circuitry.  This makes new connections and modifies the ‘learned’ response to stressful situations.

migraine

For example, being sat down at a desk for swathes of time undergoing anxiety about work has a very real impact on the physical body as well as the mind.  Your body doesn’t know where the stress comes from.  So, the nervous system goes into fight or flight mode where skeletal muscles are poised for action and the immune system is suppressed.  Tension transmits into posture and this becomes a subconscious, learned pattern of responding to that situation.  Your body describes through its posture where it has become rigid with muscular imbalances that cause discomfort.  By identifying and stimulating the trigger points that hold that posture in place, the body can gradually identify that this sub-conscious or learned posture has become inappropriate.  Nerve cells in the muscles determine the resting length of its fibres and can be modified with sustained pressure.  The cardiovascular system is stimulated, increasing activity of cellular respiration and gaseous exchange, bringing oxygenated blood to the muscle.  Endorphins are released as a natural painkiller to counteract the ‘pain’ associated with activating a Trigger Point.  The fascial network is rebalanced by treating groups of muscles whose functions are interwoven by this connective tissue.

Deep breathing is also stimulated by massage as it provides relief from the ‘pain’ brought on by trigger point therapy. this type of supported and focused breathing helps to take your awareness out of thoughts and into the sensation of the physical body.  As with yoga, breathing into a stretch, makes it more manageable.  Oxygen not only provides energy to the body’s cells, deep breathing also promotes the firing of parasympathetic nerves.  This supports immune system function, digestion and inhibits cortisol and adrenaline – hormones that effectively keep your body primed for the flight or fight response. By learning these trigger points and breathing exercises, you can help your body change its subconscious patterning that can result in alleviating frequent headaches and the associated debilitating symptoms.

3 thoughts on “Headaches – Massage or Medication?

  1. Great blog Luke. It’s staggering the amount of patients we see who’ve been diagnosed with migraines and been through the mill even as far as an MRI and pretty impressive drugs who actually only have a really nasty trap trigger point that would come good with a bit of decent deep tissue massage.

  2. Very interesting article, we enjoy this point of view of how headaches can be controlled and healed with the help of massage practices instead of people taking all the drugs that as mentioned in the comment above are a really nasty trap!

  3. And the numbers seem just to continue to get worse and worse as we all spend longer and longer in front of a screen – which now includs the phone and tablet just to make things even more challenging.

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