A five-minute neck massage and spinal-manipulation routine resulted in a significant decrease in pain among men suffering from the acute onset of a migraine headache, according to recent research.

The study, “Reduction of Current Migraine Headache Pain Following Neck Massage and Spinal Manipulation,” involved 10 men with an average age of about 32 years and a diagnosis of acute onset of migraine headache, according to specific medical criteria.

The objective of the study was to figure out whether a simple neck massage, in combination with spinal manipulation, would reduce the pain intensity of acute migraine attacks. To measure the results, researchers asked subjects to rate their pain on a verbal analog scale before and after the session and also to rate their satisfaction with the therapy after it was complete.

For the intervention, participants sat in a chair and leaned on its backrest, which extended to the upper thorax, with their arms hanging by their sides. The therapist stood behind the chair and began the session with the “massage and softening step.” This consisted of massage of the trapezius and supraspinatus muscles, followed by massage of the posterior and lateral neck muscles.

“The therapist used his thumbs to rub gently on and soften the trapezius and supraspinatus fibers,” state the study’s authors. “He performed this in a down-upward direction between T3 and C7 vertebrae levels three to five times.”

To address the posterior and lateral neck muscles, the therapist stood to the subject’s side, put his hand over the subject’s forehead, and asked the subject to rest his head against the therapist’s hand.

“This position released the neck muscles from active contraction and reduced their functional tonus,” state the study’s authors. “Then, the therapist drew a dash-line with the thumb of his other hand to apply pressure from the neck base to C7 level on four to five points just adjacent to the vertebral spinous processes.”

According to the researchers, this occurred three to five times, followed by similar horizontal “stepping” on the same side from lateral neck to the spinous processes on four to five respective points downward.

After this massage phase of the intervention was complete, the therapist moved on to the spinal manipulation. This consisted of an adjustment of the cervical and upper thoracic intervertebral joints.

Results of the research showed a mean pain reduction of nearly 70 percent following the massage and manipulation intervention. In addition, no side effects were observed and all subjects reported satisfaction with the therapy.

“We do not know whether the neck massage, manipulation or the combination of these modalities improved the painful status of the subjects,” state the study’s authors. “Determination of this issue needs future comparative studies.”


Authors: Younes Jahangiri Noudeh, Nasibeh Vatankhah and Hamid R. Baradaran.

Sources: Faculty of Medicine and Department of Epidemiology, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran. Originally published in March 2012 in the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 5(1), 5-13.