How to Use Massage Therapy to Relieve Headache Pain

Statistics show that about 45 million Americans suffer from chronic migraines every year. Even worse is that Americans spend an average of $1 billion annually to treat headaches.

But did you know that something as simple as a massage can help relieve your headache pain?

Massage therapy has many benefits, one of which is the ability to prevent and treat migraines and tension headaches.

The good news is that you can learn several self-massage techniques if you want to enjoy the benefits of massage therapy from the comfort of your home.

Besides, massage tools like this neck and back massage pillow are now available for people who want fast relief from headaches.

To help you make a more informed decision when it comes to the best massage therapy for your headache pain, let’s look at how you can use massage therapy to relieve headache pain.

Common Headache Types

Most of us have experienced a headache in our lifetime. Although most people are familiar with the uncomfortable pain accompanying all headaches, it’s essential to know that not all headaches are equal.

To start with, headaches are classified into two broad categories.

  • Primary headaches – A primary headache is when the headache is the main medical issue. This means that there is no other medical condition triggering the headache. Common examples of primary headaches include migraine and tension-type headaches.
  • Secondary headaches – This refers to a headache that is a symptom of another condition that your body is dealing with. Common examples include sinus, caffeine, and hormonal headaches.

Based on these two categories, headaches are further classified into different types. Here’s a look at the common types of headaches.

1. Tension Headache

A tension headache is characterized by a dull ache all over your head. The tightening pain will spread from your neck to around your head and may also find its way to your arms or shoulder muscles.

Stress is a common cause of tension headaches, but hormonal changes or dehydration can also trigger the ache.

Nausea and sensitivity to light or sound are other symptoms accompanying a tension headache.

2. Cluster Headache

Cluster headaches are severe and painful. The burning pain will occur on one side of your face or behind one eye.

When you have a cluster headache, you may also exhibit other symptoms such as nasal congestion, redness, sweating, or swelling on the affected side.

As the name suggests, a cluster headache occurs in sequences. For instance, most people with a cluster headache will experience two to four headaches daily, with each headache lasting 20 minutes to three hours.

3. Migraines

A migraine is an intense throbbing pain that comes from deep inside your head. Due to the intensity of this headache, most people find it difficult to perform daily chores.

A migraine is also one-sided and leads to sensitivity to light and sound. Other symptoms of a migraine include vomiting and nausea.

Most migraine patients will have a migraine aura before the headache starts. Some migraine common triggers include environmental factors, dehydration, hormonal changes, and skipping meals.

4. Sinus Headache

Another name for sinus headache is allergy headache.

This headache occurs due to an allergic reaction, and you’ll feel pain in your sinus or forehead area.

If you suffer from chronic allergies, this may be one of the symptoms during an allergic reaction.

Massage and Headache Relief

Some massage techniques offer relief to headache pain. Several of these massage therapies are discussed below.

Deep tissue massage – When performing a deep tissue massage, your therapist will use deep but slow finger strokes to massage your head and neck muscles. This helps reduce muscle tension, pain, and also improves blood circulation.

Swedish massage – The Swedish massage is gentler than the deep tissue massage. It’s an effective remedy for tension headaches. This relaxation massage improves circulation, lowers your heart rate, and increases the production of feel-good hormones that help in pain relief. Also, when your body is relaxed, there is decreased production of cortisol, the stress hormone which is a common trigger for headaches.

Trigger point massage –Past research shows that specific trigger points contribute to tension headaches. When using trigger point massage, your therapist will apply direct pressure to the painful head region. Although this technique may be painful, it does provide instant relief from headache pain

Facial massage – In some instances, frequent headaches may result from bruxism- the clenching of the jaw or grinding of the teeth during sleep. A face massage that focuses around your jaw and cheekbones can help relieve tension headaches caused by bruxism.

How Can Massage Help Alleviate Headache

Massage therapy promotes relaxation, decreases stress levels, and reduces sleep disturbances, all of which can alleviate headaches.

Here are other ways that massage helps bring relief to headaches.

  • Releases muscle spasms –Trigger point massage therapy helps release tight shoulder, neck, and head muscles, ultimately reducing pain
  • Reduces stress – Mental stress can cause or exacerbate a headache. However, massage therapy can help you relax and reduce the production of cortisol, the stress hormone that is known to cause headaches
  • Eases pain signals – Your body trigger points can send pain signals to your brain, leading to aches and pain. Massage therapy that focuses on specific trigger points on your head and face can reduce pain referrals to your brain
  • Increase production of serotonin – Reduced serotonin levels are often linked to migraines. Massage therapy helps increase the production of serotonin which improves your mood and reduces headaches
  • Better sleep quality- Numerous studies have shown that massage promotes relaxation leading to better sleep and reduced migraines
  • Promotes blood flow – Massage therapy increases blood, oxygen, and nutrient flow to areas in your body that may be causing you headache pain.

Self-Massage Techniques to Ease Headache

If you’re too busy to visit a massage therapist, you can still reap the many benefits of massage therapy by using a back or neck massager or the below self-massage techniques.

1. Self-Massage to Ease Tension Headache

  • Place your thumbs on the cheekbones
  • Using your fingertips, rub your temples
  • Put more pressure on your fingertips, and in small circular motions, move the fingers up from the hairline to your forehead

2. Scalp Massage

  • Sit in a comfortable chair
  • Dip your fingers in essential massage oil and gently stroke your head in light circular motions
  • Massage across your head, and be sure to cover your whole head

3. Self-Trigger Point Massage

This massage will involve applying pressure on specific pain trigger points in your head muscles.

These pain trigger points include:

  • The trapezius muscles – The muscles that extend from your skull base to your mid back
  • Sternocleidomastoid muscles (SCM)– Muscles found at the side of your neck

To massage any one of the two SCM muscles:

  • Turn your head to the opposite side of the muscle you want to massage
  • Your SCM muscle will pop out on the side of your neck
  • Pinch this muscle between your middle, thumbs, and pointer fingers
  • Bring your head back to its neutral position

To massage the trapezius muscle:

  • Start by locating the upper portion of your trapezius muscle by placing your palm on your shoulder
  • Feel the origin of the upper trapezius muscles at the bottom of your skull
  • Use your fingers to trace the muscle down to the back of the neck to where your shoulders start to widen
  • Using your hand, knead the muscles on the opposite side of your shoulder
  • Repeat this on each side of your shoulder 2 to 3 times


If you have been treating chronic headaches with over-the-counter drugs, maybe it’s time you tried massage therapy. Over-the-counter prescriptions, although effective in treating headaches, only offer temporary relief.

However, massage therapy is an effective treatment for migraines and tension headaches.

Hopefully, from this article, you have learned how to use self-massage techniques so that you can enjoy the benefits of massage therapy even when you’re too busy to visit a therapist.