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The Connection Between Massage and Headaches: Side Effects Explained

Written by Chris Corrales

April 24, 2023

Headaches are a common ailment that affects millions of people around the world. They can range from mild to severe, and they may be triggered by a variety of factors such as stress, tension, dehydration, lack of sleep, or underlying health conditions. Many people turn to massages as a form of relief from headaches, seeking the relaxation and therapeutic benefits that massage therapy offers. However, like any medical or therapeutic intervention, massage may also have side effects. In this article, we will explore the connection between massage and headaches, and delve into the potential side effects that may arise from massage therapy.

Massage therapy has been used for centuries as a natural approach to alleviate pain and promote relaxation. It involves the manipulation of soft tissues in the body, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments, using various techniques such as stroking, kneading, and applying pressure. The goal of massage therapy is to improve circulation, release tension, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being.

Many people who suffer from headaches turn to massage therapy as a complementary or alternative treatment to manage their symptoms. Massage is believed to have several beneficial effects on headaches, including the relaxation of tense muscles, increased blood flow, and the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body. Additionally, massage is thought to help reduce stress and anxiety, which are common triggers for headaches.

Massage can be done in different styles and pressure levels, ranging from gentle and relaxing to deep tissue and more intense. However, despite the potential benefits, massage therapy may not be suitable for everyone, and it may have side effects that need to be considered.

One potential side effect of massage therapy is headache or exacerbation of existing headaches. While massage is generally considered safe, some people may experience headaches as a side effect. There are several reasons why this may happen.

Pressure Point

Pressure is an important tool used in therapeutic massage to ease aches and pain; however, it is not without its risks. When pressure points are pressed too deeply, they can cause a patient to experience migraines or other kinds of headaches. This is especially true if the massage therapist has not been properly trained or their client suffers from a condition that predisposes them to pressure-related pain. Although it might not be felt right away, applying excessive pressure on sensitive areas should be avoided to prevent discomfort and long-term issues.


Dehydration is a serious issue and can be caused by massage in certain circumstances. Massages performed with added heat, such as a hot stone massage or in a sauna, increase the risk of dehydration, as do vigorous massages that leave you sweating more than usual. If you’re already prone to headaches, dehydration can make them significantly worse. It’s essential to stay adequately hydrated before and during your massage and also afterward so that you don’t experience unnecessary pain from dehydration-related headaches.

Muscle Soreness

Muscles can become sore due to a variety of factors, such as stress or overexertion during exercise. But even activities that are meant to help your body can sometimes cause fatigue and soreness. Deep tissue massage is one example – the intense and focused manipulation of muscles can leave your back, neck, and shoulders feeling tender and uncomfortable afterward. Not only that but this kind of muscle soreness might be associated with tension headaches; it can bring about pain in those areas or intensify existing tension headaches that are already present. Luckily, this kind of discomfort is typically short-lived and you should feel better after 24-48 hours.

Trigger Point Release

One of the most effective means for easing muscle tension and headaches is Trigger Point Release, also known as Myofascial release. It works by addressing “knots” of tight muscle fibers that cause pain or referred discomfort further away from the actual points. Trigger Point Release works to alleviate this tension through targeted massage therapy. Even though it may cause some fleeting discomfort or soreness, like headaches while the muscles readjust and relax afterward there is usually a noticeable sense of improved mobility and diminished pain in the affected area.

Relaxation Response

The relaxation response promoted by massage is a beneficial form of stress relief, but the effects can vary between individuals. Some may experience a heightened sense of relief and even euphoria while others may find that it has unintended consequences. For those vulnerable to headaches, massage-induced relaxation can cause a shift in their body’s physiological processes like increased blood flow and muscle tension. This often results in unfortunate side effects such as headaches that can ruin the positive effects of massage therapy.

Sensitivity to Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy, an art involving the use of essential oils to produce a calming effect, is often used in massage to encourage relaxation and improve mental health. Though the soothing powers of aromatherapy are vast and beneficial, some people may find they are sensitive to certain fragrances or oils that make up the essential oil combinations used. While there is a wide variety of scented combinations to choose from depending on one’s desired result, these same fragrances have the potential to cause irritating headaches or migraines for those overly sensitive, eliminating any positive benefits aromatherapy could bring. For those with sensitivities, consulting with a doctor about tracking down the specific substances of concern can help safely eliminate further complications.

Postural Changes

During a massage, the body may be positioned in different ways to access and work on various muscles. This can lead to posture changes, which may trigger headaches in some individuals. If you experience a headache after getting a massage, it is important to talk to your massage therapist about it so they can adjust the pressure or technique if needed. It is also important to stay hydrated before and after the massage, as this can help prevent postural headaches.

Overall, massage therapy has been shown to have many beneficial effects on headaches, including reducing muscle tension, increasing blood flow and endorphin release, and reducing stress and anxiety. However, it is also important to be aware of the potential side effects of massage therapy, such as headaches or exacerbation of existing headaches. By talking to your massage therapist and being aware of any potential sensitivities or postural changes, you can ensure that you get the most out of your massage therapy experience with minimal discomfort.

Our Expert’s Take

To sum up, massage offers relief from headaches in a variety of ways. Pain relief from pressure point treatment and headache relief from trigger point release can help provide relief. Dehydration, muscle soreness, postural changes, and sensitivity to aromatherapy may also play a role in helping provide relief from headaches. Finally, relaxation response should not be overlooked in its ability to help reduce tension and stress which often cause head pain. While it’s not an instant cure-all method for alleviating all types of headaches, massage can certainly be an effective tool when used properly and combined with other treatments. 

Here’s our expert’s take on this: regular massages are beneficial for maintaining good overall health due to their ability to relax the body, reduce tension and stimulate healing throughout the body—all of which can lead to fewer headaches over time!

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