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Massage Today
October, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 10

Can Massage Relieve Symptoms of Tension Headache?

University in Minnesota Awarded Research Grant for Pilot Study

By Editorial Staff

The Massage Therapy Foundation recently awarded Northwestern Health Sciences University's Wolfe-Harris Center for Clinical Studies a grant of $19,935 to conduct a pilot study to determine if massage therapy is a viable treatment option for those who suffer from tension-type headaches (TTH).

The study will take about one year to complete; Michele Maiers, DC, an associate professor at the Bloomington-based university, will serve as principal investigator.

Many people suffer from headaches, with tension-type headaches being the most common. According to Roni Evans, DC, MS, Northwestern's dean of research, tension-type headaches affect 38 percent of the population each year, and 16 percent of people suffer from headaches on any given day. While TTH is not life threatening, it can greatly alter an individual's life by causing lost work days, decreased productivity, increased health care costs and a poor quality of life for themselves and their families.

The study has three main objectives. The first is to determine the feasibility of a full-scale randomized clinical trial to assess the relative effectiveness of massage therapy and self-care education for tension-type headaches. The second is to determine if individuals with tension-type headaches would experience clinically important changes after a 10-week therapeutic massage regimen by measuring pre- and post-treatment outcomes in a prospective clinical case series embedded within the randomized pilot study. The third objective is to describe the participants' and massage therapists' experiences with massage as a treatment.

The study will include 38 people between 21 and 65 years of age who suffer from chronic or chronic episodic tension-type headaches. To qualify for the study, patients must meet the International Headache Society's definition of episodic or chronic headaches. The IHS defines chronic headaches as those that occur more than 15 days per month or 180 days per year. They define episodic as headaches that occur fewer than 15 days per month or 180 days per year. Participants also must have suffered from TTH for at least three months and experience a headache at least once a week.

Northwestern Health Sciences University (formerly Northwestern College of Chiropractic) is a multidisciplinary educational institution that features programs in chiropractic, massage, acupuncture and Oriental medicine, and integrative health and wellness. Northwestern's School of Massage Therapy admitted its first group of students in September 2000. This 36-semester-credit, 780-hour program emphasizes the basic sciences; more than 340 hours of hands-on lab experience; and structured on- and off-site clinical experiences.

To track the status of this and other research projects at NHSU's Wolfe-Harris Center for Clinical Studies, go to For more information on the massage therapy program at NHSU, visit


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