headache & massage

Soft tissue therapy, stress and headache

Massage / Soft Tissue Therapy can be a powerful tool to help take charge of your health and well-being.  It isn’t just a way to indulge and pamper yourself.

This article outlines the main areas in which there is good scientific evidence supporting the role of soft tissue therapy (STT).

Evidence suggests soft tissue therapy; massage, stretching, acupuncture and myofascial release may be beneficial in

  • release of endorphins
  • reduction of stress hormones, boosting immunity
  • reduction in muscle tension – especially the neck and jaw
  • increased circulation (blood flow to the head)
  • stimulation of the lymphatic system
  • relaxation
  • increased mobility
  • increased soft tissue recovery
  • reduction in anxiety and depression
  • improved sleep
  • lowering of heart rate & blood pressure
  • reduction of pain
  • improved athletic performance

Treating headaches and neck pain

Neck pain and headaches are common co-morbidities.  There are many types of headache but the two that commonly occur with neck pain are tension type headache (TTH) and cervicogenic headache (CGH).

To differentiate for treatment purposes we can subdivide into 2 categories

  1. primary headache disorders – for example migraine and/or TTH
  2. secondary headache disorders – for example CGH and/or headache associated with whiplash

The problem with headache and neck pain is when more than one condition is present and the symptoms overlap.


For people who suffer severe headache and/or migraine, pain can be debilitating, disrupting both their professional and personal lives.  Finding relief can be a priority.

Migraine is a complex neurological condition that can be activated by a variety of factors but also mitigated by a range of interventions.  Soft Tissue Therapy and Massage has shown some success in people who suffer from migraine, better manage the pain and may also help reduce the number of attacks.

Tension Type Headache (TTH)

TTH is defined as being typically bilateral (both sides), pressing or tightening in quality and mild to moderate in intensity, lasting minutes to days, or unremitting on average for 3 months.

The pain does not worsen with physical activity and is not normally associated with nausea.

Cervicogenic Headache (CGH)

CGHs are caused by a disorder of the spine, bony, disc and/or soft tissue structures, and is usually accompanied by neck pain.

Clinical features may also include unilateral headache with nausea, photophobia (sensitivity to light), phonophobia (sensitivity to sound) and neck pain.

Therefore it can be misunderstood as a migraine, or vice versa.

Cervical musculoskeletal abnormalities have been linked to different headaches.  Poor posture forces some muscles to work really hard while others get weaker an shorter in length.

For instance, muscle spasm can pull the head and neck from the ‘normal anatomical neutral position’ resulting in poor posture, tension, sensory problems and tenderness. A common example is forward head position – a significant factor in neck pain and headache.

Management of headaches associated with neck pain is challenging but for TTH and CGH the evidence suggests cervical spine exercises coupled with soft tissue therapy can be effective.

Stress and relaxation

Adrenaline and cortisol are both stress hormones which are released to boost your heart rate and blood sugar level.  These are part of human survival, however, when there isn’t any relief from stress, it can manifest in other ways and bring about physical symptoms.  Including headache, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, insomnia, anger, drug and alcohol abuse and depression.  Approximately 90% of disease can be stress-related, high levels of cortisol and adrenaline can be linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Stress will also age you faster……

Two things happen during soft tissue massage; stress hormones are decreased and endorphins  (serotonin and dopamine) are increased, resulting in a feeling of calm relaxation, improving state of mind and boosting the immune system.

By helping train the body to relax, it can also help improve breathing; your breathing rate slows and becomes deep and regular, benefiting stress levels and respiratory conditions.

Massage and Cancer (Oncology) – Recent studies have shown the benefit of Soft tissue work to cancer patients in reducing pain and nausea associated with treatment, as well as helping to improve emotional state.

Should you include Soft Tissue Therapy in your wellbeing…?

Headache? Sinus? Migraine?

Tired? Stressed?

Overwhelmed? Sad? Anxious?