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Massage Knowledge

Benefits of

a Massage

There are several different types of massage. Regardless of the type, the benefits are always similar.

  • Promotes circulation

    Any time there is an injury or sore area, increased blood flow can promote optimized healing. This is beneficial for the sore muscles around the herniated disc.

  • Provide a sense of well-being

    The power of human touch is amazing, plus rhythmic motions from massage releases the body’s own endorphins. These hormones promote feelings of satisfaction and well-being, making it easier to cope with pain and the healing process.

  • Decreased stress hormones

    Stress, anxiety, and depression from sustaining an injury can inhibit proper healing. Without proper management of stress, it can lead to a chronic long-term issue in association with the disc herniation.

  • Relaxation

    Muscles tend to be guarded and tight with a herniated disc injury. These stiff muscles can aggravate the entire issue and make it hard to get back to daily activities. Relaxation ultimately helps treat the soreness that may occur with a herniated disc.

  • Improve flexibility

    A herniated disc can lead to joint and muscle stiffness throughout the body. Improving movement in the spine and other affected body parts, such as the shoulders or hips, can help restore function and movement.

When to Get

a Massage for

a Herniated Disc

There are many reasons that you might decide massage for a herniated disc is right for you.

  • General muscle and joint stiffness or soreness

  • Feelings of anxiety, stress, and even depression

  • Trouble completing daily activities due to stiffness and pain

  • Good past experiences with massage

  • Poor pain cycle: stiffness is causing movement avoidance, which in turn is causing more stiffness and pain

  • Your herniated disc is affecting your sleep quality

  • You think one might help!

What is the Best Type of Massage for a Herniated Disc?


Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage is a great option for addressing those stubborn, stiff, and sore spots. When done correctly, deep massage promotes the most endorphin release in comparison to other techniques. It is typically used to target specific problem areas in the muscles or fascia (tough, thick, layers of connective tissue that separate layers and surround muscle).

Remember, deep tissue massage can lead to some soreness itself. This pain and soreness should be different from your original symptoms. Symptoms should not be aggravated. Rather, muscle groups and joints that were focused on during the massage may be sore. If sore, this where use of other modalities may be helpful as an adjunct in the recovery process.

Combine massage with pain creamheat, and cold therapy for added relief.


Trigger Point Therapy

Trigger point therapy is a technique that specifically addresses muscle knots in the body. These knots are small sections of muscle that have literally “bunched up” due to issues with overuse, poor posture, chronic pain, and other imbalances. Our muscles are meant to tolerate tension and stretch as long as they are allowed to periodically return to their original position, like a rubber band. When there is little rest time or too much strain small sections of the affected muscle will turn into a big mess of fibers. This limits blood flow to the area, perpetuating the problem even further.

To address these areas, pressure is put directly on the muscle knot for an extended amount of time (typically 1-5 minutes). This is basically a “reset” for the muscle fibers. As pressure is applied, the surrounding area will be flooded with blood and promote better muscle fiber position as they relax. This technique is easy to self-administer with the right tools as long as you can stay relaxed throughout the process.


Hot and Cold Massage

Heat and cold therapy are both great options for promoting relaxation and pain relief. Combine it with massage and you have a powerful tool for feeling better. A massage therapist may try hot stones, keep the room at a particular temperature, or being/end your session with heat or cold. Heat is typically better tolerated but cold is a great option for a new back injury that has a lot of inflammation. You can also use your own home tools for cost efficiency while still getting all the benefits.



Acupressure is a traditional treatment option that uses tools, fingers, elbows, and knees to apply pressure to specific areas in the body. When it is being used for a herniated disc, the acupressurist will focus on relieving pain, stress, and promoting an overall sense of well-being through appropriate “energy” release and re-direction.  Acupressure mats for home are less focused on specific areas but are great for promoting circulation and pain relief via pressure points throughout the back. Any treatment that encourages increased circulation is definitely worth a try.

Practicing Herniated Disc Massage Safely

When participating in massage, comfort is key. While some discomfort or pain may occur, the key is to be able to stay relaxed.

  • If pressure is too much, it can lead to excess muscle guarding and actually make the issue worse. Your ability to relax should be your gauge to what you can do. “No pain no gain” does not apply for massage for a herniated disc.

  • Listen to your body and realize that harder is not better.

  • Be aware of your spine position. Too much time spent in a flexed posture can aggravate your symptoms. Plus, any prolonged position can lead to stiffness so make sure to move as needed and use pillow for propping.

  • If the massage technique or position you are in is increasing nerve symptoms, such as tingling, shooting pain, or muscle strength, re-adjust or discontinue.

  • Be aware of your anxiety. If you can’t relax this may not be a good option for you. Try other modalities and treatment options for pain relief such as chiropractic care or physical therapy.


Sciatic Nerve Pain


Why It Hurts

Sciatic nerves go from your lower back into your legs. When something presses on them, like a slipped disk or a bone spur, you get sciatica. You might have a burning sensation, numbness,  weakness, or pain. Some people say it feels like pins and needles, while others say it's more like getting an electrical shock or being stabbed with a knife. However it feels to you, there are many ways to get relief.

Heat Things Up or Cool Them Down

Hot and cold may be opposites, but both can help keep you comfortable. Cold treatment is usually best for an injury that just happened. After about 72 hours, doctors usually suggest switching to heat. Use an ice pack that's wrapped in a towel or try a heating pad for about 15-20 minutes at a time. Be careful not to burn your skin. 

Take a Yoga Stretching

It may not be a cure-all, but it might help you feel better. Try a type called Iyengar yoga, which  emphasizes good posture. Research shows that it cuts pain and lets you move around more easily.

Get a Massage

A professional rubdown isn't just about relaxation. Research shows that massage therapy  eases pain and improves how well you can move your lower back. It also helps get blood flowing, which encourages your body to heal itself. Find a therapist who specializes in back pain and can also work some assisted stretching into your session.

When to Call Your Doctor

Usually sciatica is painful but not dangerous. But there are times you'll want to call your doctor right away. Get in touch with them if you have a fever, blood in your urine, trouble controlling your bowels or bladder, or pain that's so bad it wakes you up at night.


Reasons Your Neck Hurts

Unusual Sleep Position

If you have a “crick” in your neck, you know it right when you wake up. Maybe you fell asleep in a chair or used a different pillow. It comes from sleeping in a weird position that put a strain on your neck. It’s pretty common, and it’s usually not serious.

Neck Strain

If you do something with your neck you don't usually do, like look up at the sky for an air show or balance something heavy across your shoulders, it may start to hurt after a while. Those muscles aren’t used to working that way.

‘Text Neck’ Syndrome (Phone)

This is another form of neck strain, and it’s a real thing. Too many hours hunched over your smartphone can strain those muscles and tendons. Too much time hunched over anything -- including your computer or workbench -- can do the same thing.


This happens when you hit the nerves in your neck or shoulder, like when you play a contact sport. Something that feels like an electric shock shoots down your shoulder, arm, and hand. It usually lasts just a few seconds, but it may linger for days. 

Herniated Disk

The soft “disks” between the small bones of your spine can crack and ooze a jelly-like substance that pushes on nerves in your neck. It causes pain that can travel to your arms or down your back.

Spinal Stenosis

This is when the spaces in your spinal column narrow, which can put pressure on the nerves and bones that run from the part of your spine that’s in your neck to your shoulders, arms, and all the way down your legs. Arthritis, tumors, inherited diseases (genetic), and other conditions can cause it, and it's much more likely after age 50.

Bone Spurs

These are small, hard growths that form on the small bones that make up your spine. It’s common to have them as you get older. They can narrow the space around your spinal cord and pinch your spinal cord or the nerves around it. You may not notice them at all, or you might have a stiff neck with dull pain that shoots down your arms. They also can cause headaches.

Degenerative Disk Disease

As you age, the marshmallow-like disks between your vertebrae can get dry and less spongy. This can make them tear or split, and ooze their inner jelly. They may heal and form scar tissue, which is weaker than normal tissue. The space between the vertebrae can get smaller and change the way your spine fits together, which causes pain and can lead to arthritis.

4 Ways Massage Can Help Your Neck Pain


1. Frozen neck and massage treatment

While a stiff neck can be a nuisance, it usually isn’t a cause for panic. If the stiffness gets more extreme, however, it can lead to a sensation of the neck being “frozen” in place, limiting movement and significantly affecting your quality of life.

Fortunately, massage is one of the best alternative medicine approaches for treating neck stiffness. Massage is proven to improve both neck mobility and reduce neck pain.

2. Massage for pinched nerves in the neck

Pinched nerves are typically caused by pressure placed on the nerve by joints, muscles, or other structures. Muscle tension and inflammation may be the cause of this pressure. Nerve impingement in either the brachial plexus – located in the shoulder – or disc herniation in the cervical spine can both lead to nerve pain in both the neck and shoulder.

Massage therapy can be a great choice for relieving that inflammation, and thus reducing nerve pain and pressure

3. Massage for pinched nerve in the shoulder

Studies have shown that massage has a positive effect in reducing chronic shoulder pain. Problems from nerves in the shoulder girdle – typically coming from the large nerve bundle called the brachial plexus – can often translate as pain in the neck, leading you to believe that the neck is the origin of the pain. Your massage therapist will be able to help you track down the source of the pain so that you can find relief, whether it’s coming from the neck or the shoulder.

4. Swedish massage for neck pain

Swedish massage works to lengthen and relax muscles and tissues, making it a great choice for those suffering from neck and shoulder pain. One trial showed notable symptom improvement for neck pain patients receiving regular Swedish massage. While, patients receiving Swedish massages were able to reduce their pain medication more than participants who did not receive massage.


benefit of cupping therapy

cupping therapy

Cupping is a type of alternative therapy that originated in China. It involves placing cups on the skin to create suction. The suction may facilitate healing with blood flow.

Proponents also claim the suction helps facilitate the flow of “qi” in the body. Qi is a Chinese word meaning life force. A famous Taoist alchemist and herbalist, Ge Hong, reportedly first practiced cupping. He lived from A.D. 281 to 341.

Many Taoists believe that cupping helps balance yin and yang, or the negative and positive, within the body. Restoring balance between these two extremes is thought to help with the body’s resistance to pathogens as well as its ability to increase blood flow and reduce pain.

Cupping increases blood circulation to the area where the cups are placed. This may relieve muscle tension, which can improve overall blood flow and promote cell repair. It may also help form new connective tissues and create new blood vessels in the tissue.

People use cupping to complement their care for a host of issues and conditions.

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What Is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the thick band of tissue (also called a fascia) at the bottom of your foot that runs from your heel to your toes.

Doctors once thought bony growths called heel spurs brought on the pain. Now they believe that heel spurs are the result -- not the cause -- of plantar fasciitis.


Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis causes pain in your heel. It’s usually worse when you take your first steps in the morning or after you’ve been sitting for a long time. It tends to feel better with activity but worsens again after you spend a long time on your feet.


Plantar Fasciitis Causes and Risk Factors

Your fascia supports the muscles and arch of your foot. When it’s overly stretched, you can get tiny tears in its surface. This can bring on pain and inflammation.

You’re at greater risk of plantar fasciitis if you:

  • Are female

  • Are 40 to 60 years old

  • Are obese

  • Have flat feet or high arches

  • Have tight Achilles tendons, or “heel cords”

  • Have an unusual walk or foot position

  • Often wear high-heeled shoes

  • Spend many hours standing each day

  • Wear worn-out shoes with thin soles


Diagnosing Plantar Fasciitis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and check your feet to see where you’re having pain. They sometimes want you to have imaging tests to make sure something else isn’t causing your problem. These tests include:


Plantar Fasciitis Treatment

Your treatments may include:

  •  Icing the area.

  •  Night splints. You wear these to stretch your calf and foot while you sleep.

  •  Physical therapy. Certain exercises can stretch your fascia and Achilles tendon and strengthen your leg muscles, which will make your ankle and heel more stable.

  •  Rest. Stop doing things that make the pain worse. This might include some types of exercise, like running or jumping.

  •  Supportive shoes or inserts. Shoes with thick soles and extra cushioning will make it less painful for you to stand or walk. Arch supports can distribute pressure more evenly across your feet.

  •  Taking pain-relieving non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium. You shouldn’t take these for more than a month, so talk with your doctor.

Once you begin treatment, you’ll usually see improvement within 10 months. If you aren’t better then, your doctor might try treatments like shots of cortisone, a type of steroid, to ease inflammation. In rare cases, you might need surgery.

WebMD Medical ReferenceReviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on October 07, 2019

A Migraine Attack

Migraine is a neurological disease, not a vascular issue as previously thought.

Peter Goadsby, M.D., who is a neurologist and headache specialist at the University of California San Francisco, describes the disease as “an inherited tendency to have headaches with sensory disturbance. It’s an instability in the way the brain deals with incoming sensory information, and that instability can become influenced by physiological changes like sleep, exercise and hunger.”1

Migraine is a complex condition that can be activated by a variety of factors, but also mitigated by a range of interventions.

First, let’s explore how migraines develop. Each migraine cycles through four phases.2 The accompanying symptoms in each phase can vary dramatically among people who suffer from migraines.

Phase 1—Prodrome

Up to 72 hours before the pain hits, there can be warning signs that a migraine is imminent. These signs can include severe exhaustion or hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating, food cravings, sleepiness and neck pain.

Phase 2—Aura

The most commonly reported aura is visual, although it only occurs in one third of the migraine population. A person’s vision can be interrupted by sparkly spots, zigzag lines or tunnel vision, lasting between 20 to 60 minutes. An aura can present in other ways, too, such as vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and even temporary paralysis on one side of the body.

Phase 3—Headache

The pain during this phase is often described as throbbing, piercing or pulsating. The client may also be sensitive to light, sound and smell. Physical activity usually makes the symptoms worse. This phase can be debilitating for hours or days. Most seek refuge in a quiet, dark room.

Phase 4—Postdrome

Once the pain has subsided, the body requires a recovery period. A person might feel exhausted, sluggish, confused and even depressed.


The Science of Massage and Migraine

Dawn Buse, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Director of Behavioral Medicine at the Montefiore Headache Center in New York, says that although firm scientific data is lacking, patients still find value in massage therapy.

“Data on the efficacy of massage for migraine are somewhat limited. This does not mean that massage is not helpful for migraine, but rather that there have been few studies, and they have had smaller samples and less rigorous designs, so we do not have the scientific evidence necessary to make a conclusive statement about its efficacy. This is due in large part to the fact that there is less funding available to support research on massage and other non-pharmacologic treatments than there is to support the testing of new medications,” she explains. “However, many patients find massage therapy helpful, in which case I encourage them to make it a regular part of their treatment plan along with other healthy lifestyle habits, relaxation and self-care activities.”3

Though limited, there have been a few studies that point to a positive connection between massage and migraine relief.


Research: Massage Therapy for Migraines

  • A randomized, controlled trial of massage therapy as a treatment for migraine.4 Participants either received no massage or two 30-minute traditional massages for five weeks. Before and after each session, each participant’s heart rate, anxiety level and salivary cortisol were measured. The massage group reported a decrease in the frequency of migraine attacks compared to the control group. Heart rates, anxiety level and salivary cortisol levels also decreased by the end of each massage session.

  • Myofascial trigger point-focused head and neck massage for recurrent tension-type headache: a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial.5 Participants with tension-type headache, a related headache disorder, received either no massage, ultrasound or 12 myofascial trigger-point massage sessions within a six week period. This type of massage focuses on releasing abnormal skeletal muscles, often a contributing factor in triggering tension-type headaches and migraine. The massage group reported the highest positive change in headache frequency as well as perceived headache pain. The massage group also experienced greater improvement in their pressure-pain threshold than the placebo and control groups.

  • Effects of Thai traditional massage on pressure pain threshold and headache intensity in patients with chronic tension-type and migraine headaches.6 Participants with chronic tension-type and migraine headaches either received ultrasound or nine sessions of Thai traditional massage in a three-week period. This type of massage uses compression, stretching, pulling and rocking motions as opposed to rubbing of muscles. The pain pressure threshold increased for those in the massage group, while it decreased in the placebo group. However, both groups reported a significant reduction in the intensity of their migraine attacks.


How Massage Can Help Migraine

Jamie Valendy and Anna Eidt suffer from chronic migraine. Both women have 15 or more migraine days a month. Only 8 percent of the migraine population in the United States have migraines this frequently or this severe—roughly 4 million people.7

Valendy schedules a massage every 4–6 weeks to help her manage her migraine attacks. Her therapist is trained in deep tissue, trigger point and Swedish massage. Valendy says that she knows it’s time to schedule a massage session when her “shoulders become so tight that they start lifting upward and [she has] a difficult time getting them to relax back into a normal posture.”8

Eidt, who schedules a massage every two weeks, believes finding the right massage therapist is essential. “It takes a very special, knowledgeable and responsive practitioner for massage therapy to be an effective form of migraine prevention,”9 she says. She prefers gentle myofascial trigger point massage, noting that anything too rough or hard is often too much to bear and can trigger a migraine attack.


Shiatsu for Migraine

“Shiatsu has a profound effect on the nervous system, and I think that is why it is so effective for migraine,” says Leisa Bellmore, a Shiatsu therapist from Toronto.10 Shiatsu technique focuses on pressure points along muscle lines, nerve pathways and blood vessels, along with gentle stretching.

When a client is having an active migraine during a session, Bellmore focuses first on pressure points on the head and neck, then moves to the neck and shoulders. Pressure should start lightly and increase based on the client’s tolerability. Stretching the neck is also a key technique in addressing pain stemming from this area during an attack. Bellmore suggests performing the “forward flexion” technique on migraine clients, as outlined below:

Forward Flexion of the Neck

  • Support client’s head with left hand.

  • Slip right hand under client’s head, placing hand on left shoulder so that the head rests in crook of arm.

  • Place left hand on right shoulder.

  • Gently stretch head forward by straightening right arm while supporting the side of the head with the left arm, rising up slightly while you do so.

  • Hold for 10 seconds, then lower the head.

  • Support the head with the left hand while removing arm.    

Let Cooler Heads Prevail—Using Cold Stones

Kelly Lott11 is a massage therapist and educator with 20-plus years of experience. Although Lott does not suffer from migraines, she has made it her mission to assist clients who need help managing migraine pain. “Migraine patients yearn for cold, not heat,” says Lott.

Lott has observed that active massage therapy can increase blood flow and cause inflammation in some migraine clients. She has developed a set of marble stones designed to be used on the forehead, temples, sinus area and back of the scalp. The stones are refrigerated at 36 degrees Fahrenheit until used.

The placement of the stones includes the area where the trigeminal nerves (found in the face and temples) and the occipital nerves (found at the base of the skull) are located. These two sets of nerves are known to cause migraine attacks if they become inflamed. The soothing coolness of the stones can help to calm these nerves. She recommends that cold stone therapy can be used once a week for prevention of migraine attacks or during an active attack.

Lott recommends the following four myofascial trigger points to relieve pressure in the face. This can be performed in conjunction with cold stone therapy or on its own.12

  1. Place thumb pads under the orbital ridge (under the eyebrow bone) close to the bridge of the nose. Press up and inward to the bones, to a comfort level. This exercise tends to provide the fastest relief, say Lott.

  2. Using your index fingers, press into the orbital ridge bone (eyebrow bone), one place at a time, from inside to outside. Hold for 20 seconds.

  3. Using your index fingers, press into the sinus area (just beside the nostril) to a comfort level. Hold for 20 seconds.

  4. Massage the sinus area in a circular motion to break up the mucus and pressure.

Establishing Boundaries

When working with a person who suffers from migraine, there are several key factors to address before beginning a session:

  • Some migraine patients experience allodynia, a condition in which one or several areas is extremely sensitive to touch. The pain is so intense that clients may say their hair hurts, a sensation caused by allodynia. Ask the client about any sore areas that should be avoided (especially the scalp).

  • Sensitivity to smell, or hypersomnia, is a common symptom for people with migraine. If using essential oils is part of your practice, make sure to ask the client before using any fragrance products.

  • Be on the same page regarding the firmness of massage. Some migraine clients want you to more aggressively work out those knots, while others just need a soothing touch.

  • Encourage your client to hydrate. Bellmore insists that her clients stay well-hydrated, as dehydration is a common trigger for a migraine attack.

  • Ask anyone who suffers from migraine and you’ll know that pain relief is one of their primary objectives—and massage therapy is starting to be recognized as a way for migraine sufferers to better manage pain and practice better self-care. Massage therapists who understand migraine can help people who experience it find relief faster and, perhaps, stay pain-free longer.


Related Resources



Cold Stone Therapy for Migraine Headaches

Pain, no matter where experienced or what the cause, can disrupt a person's life on a variety of levels.



Helping Clients Manage Migraines

Learn how massage therapy can help clients who suffer from migraine headaches and the special considerations to keep in mind.



  1. Goadsby, P., Dr. (n.d.). More than “just a headache.” Retrieved January 10, 2017, from

  2. Silberstein, S., Dr, & Cady, R. K., Dr (Eds.). (n.d.). The 4 Stages of Migraine. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from

  3. Migraine & Massage [E-mail to D. Buse PhD]. (2017, January 8).

  4. Chateau, O. (n.d.). Massages for migraine relief. Retrieved January 21, 2017, from complimentary-and-alternative-therapies/massage.

  5. Moraska AF, Stenerson L, Butryn N, Krutsch JP, Schmiege SJ, Mann JD. (2015). "Myofascial trigger point-focused head and neck massage for recurrent tension-type headache: a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial." Clinical Journal of Pain. 159-68. 

  6. Chatchawan U, Eungpinichpong W, Sooktho S, Tiamkao S, Yamauchi J. (2014). "Effects of Thai traditional massage on pressure pain threshold and headache intensity in patients with chronic tension-type and migraine headaches." Journal of Alternaltive and Complementary Medicine. 486-92. 

  7. Robert, T. (n.d.). Chronic migraine headaches.

  8. Migraine and Massage [E-mail to J. Valendy]. (2017, January 10).

  9. Migraine and Massage [E-mail to A. Eidt]. (2017, January 10).

  10. Migraine and Massage [E-mail to L. Bellmore]. (2017, January 9).

  11. Lott, K. (2017, January 10). Massage Therapy & Migraine [Telephone interview].

  12. Lott, K. Migraine Miracle Step by Step Guide. 7-8. [Product brochure]

  13. Bellmore, L. (2016, October 28) Shiatsu Therapy for the Effective Treatment of Migraine. 16. [Presentation handout].

  14. Massage for migraines surprisingly effective. (2008, February 05). Retrieved January 6, 2017, from

  15. Ingraham, P. (2012, October 28). Massage Therapy for Tension Headaches. Retrieved January 20, 2017, from

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