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Massage Today
June, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 06

Massage Provides Benefits for Children Suffering from Headaches


By the age of 15, nearly 75% of children will have experienced at least one headache, with many having recurring headaches. While there are a number of factors that go into the causes of childhood headaches, it can be as simple as a hereditary link.

Children who have parents with headaches are more likely to experience headaches themselves. While headaches are not enjoyable for any age, childhood headaches are linked to school absences, behavioral problems and can possibly indicate a larger health problem. Understanding why headaches happen, how to help a child deal with them and when to consult a physician is crucial.

Causes and Symptoms

Headaches are simply defined as "... pain or discomfort in the head or facial structures." Most headaches are caused by changes in surrounding blood vessels, muscles or by infection in the surrounding tissues. Blood vessels contracting, stiff neck and shoulder muscles from growing pains and infections of the eye, ear, teeth or sinuses are all common indicators. Other factors that influence childhood headaches include not enough sleep, dehydration, stress, using the computer, iPad or TV for too long, changes in hormone levels, loud music, strong odors, food allergies and drinking too much caffeine.

kid with headache - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark There are several different types of childhood headaches including sinusitis, migraine, muscle contraction, cluster (or vascular headaches), environmental pollution headaches and depression headaches. Ten to 15% of children with chronic sinusitis experience recurring headaches which often present with pain or discomfort around the eyes and forehead. While the pain is more commonly centered on the face rather than resonating from the head, the sinuses are often tender to touch. Post nasal drip, congestion and allergies usually go hand-in-hand with this type of headache.

Migraine headaches are quite common in children and usually start during the early school years, and are more commonly seen in adolescent females. Pain is commonly described as pounding, throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head which increases over time, usually lasting hours or days. Visual sensitivity, upset stomach including nausea and vomiting are common alongside migraines. Interestingly, a family history of migraines is present in almost 80% of cases of children who experience migraines.

Muscle contraction headaches or tension headaches, are the most common type childhood headache and are often caused by emotional factors. Described as a constant pressure and a dull or aching sensation, these headaches differentiate themselves from migraines because they do not commonly include nausea or vomiting. Similar to migraines, muscle contraction headaches are also seen more frequently in girls rather than boys. Children who are considered to be overweight, have a higher rate of muscle contraction headaches, as compared with their middle-school aged peers.

Cluster or vascular headaches are usually seen in older, predominately male adolescents and commonly include eye pain and nasal congestion. The pain is quite severe, experienced at night, may last an hour or more and does not usually include stomach upset. True to its name, cluster headaches usually occur in groups or "clusters."

The least common of childhood headaches are those associated with depression. Many depressed children may complain of a severe headache that lasts for days or even longer. This type of headache can be compulsive due to worrying or obsession. Environmental pollution headaches are starting to rise in prevalence, and can be associated with both indoor and outdoor pollution.

Treatment with Massage

There are not many treatment options for headaches, commonly parents are asked to have their children lay in a cool, dark and quiet room with a cool cloth over the forehead or eyes. For toddlers, it may be hard to recognize that the child is having a headache, much less be able to get them to lie down and rest. However more research is showing that massage (given by parent or professional) can help assist with reducing the pain and prevalence of headaches.

In almost all of childhood headaches, stress and anxiety is a factor in the onset or occurring during the headache.

A study was done over six weeks on adults with recurring tension headaches; the massage group was given two, 45-minute massages each week. Most of the session was spent warming up tissues of the back, shoulders, chest and neck, as well as facial points. The study found that within three weeks of starting the massage therapy, the subjects reported less weekly episodes. Even more exciting was that the headaches were less intense and shorter in length. These results actually continued for nearly three weeks following the massage therapy.

Many of these headaches begin at night which can lead to reduced sleep, which in turn can fuel the headache or cause recurrence. Massage has been found to not only help children fall asleep quicker, but sleep more soundly and for a longer period of time. Sufficient sleep, along with the use of massage and nurturing touch can greatly improve mood. Several recent studies of children who received a 20-minute massage twice a week showed immediate improvement in their moods and longer-term behavioral improvement in the classroom. Interestingly enough, they also reported feeling happier than peers who participated in relaxation therapy program, as opposed to the massage sessions.

Adding pediatric massage to provide relaxation and stress reduction as a preventive measure for childhood headaches is a great addition to a regular routine of healthy care. Whether the massage is provided by a trained pediatric massage therapist, or an educated parent, the child will feel the benefit of nurturing touch.

Click here for more information about Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT.


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