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A randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy as a treatment for migraine


Background: Migraine is a distressing disorder that is often triggered by stress and poor sleep. Only one randomized controlled trial (RCT) has assessed the effects of massage therapy on migraine experiences, which yielded some promising findings.Purpose: An RCT was designed to replicate and extend the earlier findings using a larger sample, additional stress-related indicators, and assessments past the final session to identify longer-term effects of massage therapy on stress and migraine experiences.Methods: Migraine sufferers (N = 47) who were randomly assigned to massage or control conditions completed daily assessments of migraine experiences and sleep patterns for 13 weeks. Massage participants attended weekly massage sessions during Weeks 5 to 10. State anxiety, heart rates, and salivary cortisol were assessed before and after the sessions. Perceived stress and coping efficacy were assessed at Weeks 4, 10, and 13.Results: Compared to control participants, massage participants exhibited greater improvements in migraine frequency and sleep quality during the intervention weeks and the 3 follow-up weeks. Trends for beneficial effects of massage therapy on perceived stress and coping efficacy were observed. During sessions, massage induced decreases in state anxiety, heart rate, and cortisol.Conclusions: The findings provide preliminary support for the utility of massage therapy as a nonpharmacologic treatment for individuals suffering from migraines.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sheleigh P. Lawler Ph.D..

Additional information

We thank the New Zealand College of Massage for their contribution to this project.

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Lawler, S.P., Cameron, L.D. A randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy as a treatment for migraine. ann. behav. med. 32, 50–59 (2006).

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  • Migraine
  • Sleep Quality
  • Migraine Attack
  • State Anxiety
  • Salivary Cortisol