Help! I Suffer from Migraines

Migraines – as anyone who has experienced one knows, they’re more than just a bad headache. Soma therapist Donna Elsey explains what they are, what to do if you get them, and how massage therapy can help. 

What are migraines?

A migraine is classically a one-sided headache often accompanied by nausea, and can last for several hours.  For some people, migraines can last a few days.  It is estimated that 6 million people in the UK are affected by migraines. One out of six migraine sufferers will also experience an aura or flashing lights in their vision.

What causes them?

Research is still taking place to understand what causes migraines.  Some studies suggest they are neurological, and others suggest they are a vascular condition.  A spasm in the blood vessels that supply the brain can cause a temporary impaired blood supply.  When the blood vessels dilate after the spasm subsides, sufferers experience a pounding headache.  Often migraines can be triggered by food intolerances, stress, hunger, medication, and changes in the barometric pressure with the weather.

How are they treated?

The general consensus for treating migraines is to prevent them altogether.  Ways to prevent them include:

  • Keeping a food diary to track and avoid potential triggers.
  • Certain medications can be useful – ask your doctor for advice.
  • Regular massage between migraine episodes, which can decrease tension and promote relaxation.

How can massage therapy help?

Massage therapy can help prevent the onset of headaches and migraines by decreasing tension build up in the neck, shoulders, back, and facial muscles.  Some trigger points (or ‘knots’) can cause referral patterns that mirror headache symptoms. Deep tissue massage followed by gentle stretching can effectively release these.

For chronic headache or migraine sufferers, regular massage of once a week initially is suggested. This can progress to once every 3-4 weeks for maintenance and prevention, depending on any perpetuating factors and the person’s lifestyle. Massage can contribute to an effective treatment plan for preventing symptoms from starting.

Self-care tips:

There’s a lot you can do for yourself to keep headaches and migraines at bay:

  • Slow stretches are helpful before and after activity, especially for your neck and shoulders.
  • Take breaks throughout your workday, especially if you work at a desk or are fixed in one position for any length of time.
  • Try to avoid sleeping on your tummy, which can tighten up the muscles in your neck. Alternatively, sleep whilst hugging a pillow to give your neck some extra support.
  • Self-massage to the facial muscles can be very helpful. One technique is to place your thumb pads under the orbital ridge (eyebrow bone), close to the bridge of the nose. Press up and in towards the bones, to a level of pressure that feels firm, relieving but still comfortable. Hold for ten seconds whilst breathing deeply, then release and repeat five times. Use as needed.


If you or someone you know suffers from migraines please contact The Migraine Trust for support and more information. The Migraine Trust can be contacted on 0808 808 0066 (Monday to Friday, 10am to 2pm) or by emailing

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