It is the position of the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) that massage can be an effective therapy for those who suffer from tension headaches.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes a tension headache as follows:
“…previously called muscle contraction headache, it is the most common type of headache. Its name indicates the role of stress and mental or emotional conflict in triggering the pain and contracting muscles in the neck, face, scalp, and jaw. Tension-type headaches may also be caused by jaw clenching, intense work, missed meals, depression, anxiety, or too little sleep. Sleep apnea may also cause tension-type headaches, especially in the morning. The pain is usually mild to moderate and feels as if constant pressure is being applied to the front of the face or to the head or neck. It also may feel as if a belt is being tightened around the head. Most often the pain is felt on both sides of the head. People who suffer tension-type headaches may also feel overly sensitive to light and sound but there is no pre-headache aura as with migraine. Typically, tension-type headaches usually disappear once the period of stress or related cause has ended.”
According to the Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology: “By far the most common type of [tension-type] headache people experience (90-92%), these are triggered by muscular tension, bony misalignment, postural patterns, eyestrain, temporomandibular joint disorders, myofascial pain syndrome, ligament irritation, or other musculosketetal imbalances. Tension-type headaches may also be described as episodic (happening fewer than 15 times per month) or chronic (happening more than 15 times per month).”2 Also stated in the reference: “For the most common tension-type headaches, massage is resoundingly indicated. These episodes are an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how many seemingly disconnected postural and movement patterns can create pain in an entirely different area of the body.”
Research has shown that in respect to tension headaches massage can:*
- reduce depression and/or anxiety
- decrease perceived pain
- decrease anger status
- decrease tension
- reduce frequency
- reduce intensity5,
- reduce duration5,
- decrease medication usage
- increase range of cervical motion
*Some sample sizes are small
Those patients who seek relief from tension headache pain can benefit from massage therapy given by professional massage therapists working within their scope of practice.