Throbbing pain. Vice-like pinching. Pressure. Tension. There are many ways to describe a headache and recent research has shown headaches to be more than just a mere annoyance. Headaches are, well, a major headache for the United States where 157 million workdays – accounting for almost $13 billion! – are lost each year due to missed work caused by headaches. Fortunately, recent research has also shown that regular massage therapy can help ease the intensity, duration, and number of tension-type headaches, a pain that 78 percent of American will experience in their lifetime.
The effectiveness of massage for preventing and lessening the pain caused by headaches is another reason why people should use massage to improve their health and quality of life. But this research could turn out to be a Godsend for those who don’t just suffer from infrequent headaches, but, instead, chronic tension-type headaches.
There are three types of tension-type headaches: episodic, a stress-induced headache that can be treated with over-the-counter medicines and usually only occurs once a month, or less; frequent, which occurs 2 – 15 times a month and is usually associated with symptoms of migraine and can’t be effectively alleviated through medication; and chronic, where headaches occur more than 15 times a month and can even be daily or continuous over many days. Researchers showed that massage was very helpful in alleviating the seemingly endless pain of those suffering from this last type, chronic tension-type headache.
While the exact cause of these chronic, tension-type headaches has not been scientifically proven, researchers believe that chemical imbalances and muscles tightening in the scalp and neck are primary causes. Massage already has been proven to boost the immune system, relieve stress, and loosen muscles, so it seems evident that massage would be able to relieve these symptoms and thus reduce chronic headaches.
However, it wasn’t until 2002, in an article published in the American Journal of Public Health, that researchers actually conducted a scientific study on the effects of massage on chronic tension-type headaches. Those suffering from the condition were first monitored for a four-week period to gauge the duration, strength, and frequency of their headaches. They were then treated with two, thirty-minute massages each week over the following four weeks. The massages focused on specific areas of the neck and head, and their headache symptoms were monitored during this period. The results were staggering.
Patients who were experiencing headaches 5, 6, 7 times a week began to see the frequency of their headaches decrease to 2 and 3 times a week. The duration of the patients’ headaches, which had averaged 8 hours before massages were administered, fell to 4 hours. And while one patient experienced an increase in headache intensity in the period after massages were given, the other participants in the study saw the intensity of their headaches decrease, some nearly 50 percent.
The researchers noted that more study is needed in order to increase the amount of participants and strength of the results, as well as determine what effect stretching and relaxation techniques also used during the study had on the improved conditions of the chronic headache sufferers.
However, the results of the study were dramatic, especially given the serious conditions that chronic tension-type headache sufferers can develop if their pain goes unrelieved. These conditions include: insomnia, depression, weight loss, dizziness, nausea, and other emotional problems. Sufferers of chronic, tension-type headaches can also become addicted to painkillers and antidepressants. If the research from this study holds true, massage would offer them a drug-free alternative to deal with their pain.
President Barack Obama recently noted that acupuncture has been shown to alleviate chronic headaches and could be used as an alternative to more invasive, and costly, surgery/medication. He said he would let science guide him when it came to deciding what forms of therapy to include in a national health care plan. If alternative forms, such as acupuncture and massage, showed scientific, therapeutic results, he would pursue them. Currently millions of Americans miss work and lose money due to chronic tension-type headaches; perhaps pursuing massage would get them the therapeutic result they are no doubt looking for.