Massage significantly reduced the number of headaches experienced by people with chronic tension headaches, and decreased the duration of the headaches, according to a recent study.

“Massage Therapy and Frequency of Chronic Tension Headaches” was conducted by Christopher Quinn, Clint Chandler and Albert Moraska, Ph.D., of the Boulder College of Massage Therapy in Boulder, Colorado.

Four people who had experienced two to three headaches per week for the past six years or more participated in the study, which lasted eight weeks. During the first four weeks, baseline headache measures were recorded. Throughout the last four weeks, participants received two 30-minute massages per week.

A standardized massage protocol was used, consisting of six phases that fit in the 30-minute time period: preparatory tissue warm-up (three minutes), myofascial release (five minutes), axial cervical traction (two minutes), trigger-point therapy (15 minutes), facilitated stretching (five minutes) and session closure (three to five minutes).

The trigger-point therapy, which made up the bulk of the routine, consisted of scanning palpation of the upper trapezius, sternocleidomastoid, suboccipital, splenius capitis, levator scapulae and temporalis muscles.

“When located, active trigger points were treated by pincer or flat palpation with just enough pressure to elicit referred pain or autonomic referral phenomena,” state the study’s authors.

The pressure was maintained until the referral pain ceased, or for a maximum of two minutes, then slowly eased to produce a vascular flushing. In a typical session, six active trigger points were treated, and the procedure was repeated three to five times on each point.

Every night before bed participants completed a headache diary form, recording number of headaches, intensity of most severe headache, and duration of longest headache.

Each subject experienced a reduction in headaches within the first week of massage treatment, and the mean number of headaches per week was significantly reduced from 6.8 to 2 during the four weeks of massage.

“Because our therapeutic massage protocol specifically addressed trigger-point activity, we believe that the reduction in activity of these regions by massage was a major contributor to the observed beneficial effects on tension headache,” state the study’s authors.

Although duration of headache decreased for all four subjects, the decrease was not statistically significant, and there was no significant change in headache intensity.

“The findings suggest that a larger, more complete study that includes a proper control group is warranted,” state the study’s authors.

Source: Boulder College of Massage Therapy. Authors: Christopher Quinn, Clint Chandler and Albert Moraska, Ph.D. Originally published in American Journal of Public Health, October 2002, Vol. 92, No. 10, pp. 1,657-1,661.