Is your headache suitable for massage or trigger point therapy?
Whether massage or trigger point therapy will be useful will depend upon the cause of your headaches. These causes are grouped as either primary or secondary. We will look at each. Of course diagnosing the cause is the job of a professional, so we ask that you always seek advice from a professional familiar with your own needs to ultimately work out the cause and whether any therapy is appropriate or not.
Primary headaches (the main type)
Primary headaches are those not caused by another disorder. They are typically caused by pain from pain sensitive structures around the head and neck. Of these about 95% are typical tension or cervicogenic headaches while about 5% are headaches such as migraines (1).
Tension or cervicogenic headaches
These involve pain from muscles and joints, just like other musculoskeletal conditions such as back, neck and shoulder pain.
While there are a lot of muscles in your neck, there are also muscles associated with your jaw movement and thin layers of muscle covering some of your skull. Any of these muscles can cause pain due to tension and due to the development of (myofascial) triggerpoints. For more information on trigger points see our Complete guide to (myofascial) trigger points. Later in this article we will go over the individual muscles involved.
Problems with the joints of the neck are also a major cause of headaches (2–5). For further information about what these problems are and how they are treated please see our article Do vertebrae get misaligned or go out of place. It describes the joint problems that cause back pain, but exactly the same principles apply for joints in your neck. They are just a bit smaller.
The self massage and trigger point therapy we will show you should definitely be very helpful relieving pain from muscle tension and trigger points. Joint problems require assistance from a properly qualified professional such as a Chiropractor, Osteopath, or a Physiotherapist with appropriate post graduate qualifications. Most likely, to get great lasting results you will need a combination of both professional help for the joints and home massage or trigger point therapy for the muscles.
Migraine type headaches
Migraines are a lot more complex. However, scientists have found a strong association between migraines and issues such as trigger points and abnormal neck function (2,4–8). This appears to be caused by a similar mechanism to the way that trigger points cause fibromyalgia. That is, the prolonged pain from issues such as trigger points cause the nervous system to become sensitised. If this is the case, the treatments discussed for tension and cervicogenic headaches will be very helpful.
Secondary headaches result from other conditions such as diseases or tumours. These are far less common, but need to be identified when they exist so the proper care is received.