A new pilot study suggests that massage therapy could help to improve neck symptoms in patients with cervicogenic headache.
Although massage therapy has previously been shown to help migraine, little research has examined the effects of massage on this specific headache type. Cervicogenic headache is caused by impairments in the cervical spine, or neck, which results in pain at the base of the skull, in the face, neck, and upper back. Affecting about 20-25% of the adult population, cervicogenic headaches are frequently mistaken for tension-type and migraine headaches.
Researchers publishing in the Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy conducted a pilot study on the effects of soft-tissue massage for CGH. The study included eight patients who were treated with three 8-minute sessions of soft-tissue massage applied to the cervical muscles. Range of motion was measured with flexion-rotation tests taken before and immediately after the intervention, along with a two week follow-up test.
At the start of the study, every patient impaired neck range of motion. After the first two massage sessions, the patients had significantly improved range of motion on both the right and left sides. Patients were able to reach 43.9 degrees on the left, and 40.6 degrees on the left which is considered a normal range of motion. These improvements remained stable at the two week follow-up.
While additional studies are needed to confirm these preliminary results, multiple studies have demonstrated the benefits of other manual therapies for cervicogenic headache. One recent study showed that trigger point therapy, a treatment frequently used by chiropractors and manual therapists, reduced headache pain by 71%. Multiple studies have shown the benefits of chiropractic adjustments and exercise therapy for treating cervicogenic headache. Many chiropractors utilize all of these natural, manual therapies to offer an effective treatment plan for patients with headache.
Hopper D, et al. A pilot study to investigate the short-term effects of specific soft tissue massage on upper cervical movement impairment in patients with cervicogenic headache. Journal of Manual and Manipulative Therapy 2013; 21(1):18-23. doi: 10.1179/2042618612Y.0000000018.