What is a Migraine?

Good question. I have treated a lot of people with migraines, and I have had them myself. As a massage therapist, I have learned that the answer to the big question is not a simple explanation.


The good news is that migraines usually respond to massage therapy. Generally, massage works by treating trigger points in the pattern of the migraine and by using Swedish massage techniques to soothe the irritated area and restore circulation.

Generally, migraines are headaches that create a disabling pattern of pain and fatigue around the back, sides and front of the head. Most people with a headache can take a pain remedy such as aspirin and continue on with their activities. Migraines create such feelings of fatigue the person has to withdraw, away from light and noise and they have to rest to either relieve the migraine or simply wait quietly for it to pass.

As a massage therapist, I have often noted that people with migraines have usually had a whiplash or neck strain in the past. Sometimes these injuries have not seemed serious at the time and have not been treated.

Years pass, and especially when the person undergoes stress, the migraine patterns appear and become stronger. Many people with migraines used to play sports or have had car accidents, and later, as they develop their careers in front of a computer screen, they develop migraine patterns.

Massages slowly unwind these patterns and restore function to small stuck muscles in the neck, back and scalp. Learning ways to avoid muscle strain at work and leisure helps keep the patterns from coming back.

Here are the general hallmarks of migraines:

  • Sensitivity to light, sound, or sudden changes in light and sound.
  • Sudden fatigue when one should feel rested.
  • An arc pattern of stiffness beginning at the back of the head and up over the ear to the forehead. As the migraines develop, the stiffness becomes painful.
  • Irritability.
  • Funny films or hazes in vision during the migraine.
  • A pointy sore spot on the top of the shoulder blade.
  • Inability to easily turn the head left or right.
  • Inability to look up at a ceiling or do any work above arm level.
  • A history or neck whiplash or strain from sports, accidents, dance, prolonged stress while working.

- Sue Peterson

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National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork

National Certification Board for
Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork



Certification Number: CMT #1039