5 Types of Massage Therapy for Hypertension-Related Headaches

Headaches are one of the secondary symptoms of hypertension. Discover the different types of massage therapy and how they can help relieve headaches caused by high blood pressure.

Woman in an office with her hands on her temples.

Headaches are a common complaint among people with high blood pressure. Recent medical studies suggest that there is a link between elevated blood pressure and headaches. However, hypertensive headaches are most likely a secondary symptom. If you are looking for a way to relieve hypertension-related headaches without medication, different types of massage therapy can help ease that throbbing pain in the head.

Massages for Hypertension-Related Headaches

Therapist applying acupressure on a woman’s hand
Massage therapies like acupressure can alleviate hypertension-related headaches.

As confirmed by several studies, massages can provide relief to hypertensive patients experiencing headaches and vertigo as well as chronic pain in the neck, shoulders, and back. This is due to the relaxing effect of massages, which improves blood flow throughout the body, resulting in an overall decrease in blood pressure for pre-hypertension and hypertension.

1. Acupoint massage

Acupressure is a massage therapy that involves applying pressure to specific points around the body to stimulate energy flow and alleviate pain and other ailments. A study involving acupressure versus medication for chronic headache sufferers has found that acupressure trigger points work better than muscle relaxants to reduce chronic headaches.

Generally, you can use your fingertips or a device to apply pressure at a certain acupoint. For headache relief, TCM Physician Ng Qing Xiang recommends these two acupoints:  

  • He Gu (LI4), located in between the web of the thumb and index finger, towards the middle of the second metacarpal bone, is useful for ailments related to the face and head and can help relieve headaches. However, it is not suitable for pregnant ladies.  
  • Feng Chi (GB 20), located at the depression within the base of the skull, is generally safe for anyone.

2. Tuina

Research has shown that tuina can help with treating different kinds of headaches, including tension headaches and migraines. Tuina uses focused movements such as pushing, rolling, kneading, rubbing and grasping to promote the flow of qi (vital life energy) and release stress in muscles.

3. Gua sha

Gua sha or scraping massage uses a smooth-edged tool to gently scrape different areas of the body to free stagnant qi and promote circulation. It helps relieve a wide range of health conditions. They include tightness and pain in the shoulders, back, and leg, as well as headaches, anxiety, and insomnia.

4. Swedish scalp massage

Swedish scalp massage is a relaxing therapy that effectively relieves headaches. According to the American Massage Therapy Association, gentle massages along the scalp can reduce the intensity of tension and pain in the head. Additionally, it can help loosen up a stiff neck and shoulders.

5. Deep tissue massage

Scientists have found that applying deep-tissue massage to the head can alleviate headaches. This type of massage utilises deep, gliding motions and a firm pressure using the knuckles of thumbs on specific areas of the head to release tension or pain. 

Take note that the massages highlighted above are only suitable for mild and generic cases of headaches. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience symptoms like a rapidly worsening headache or headaches that are accompanied by a fever, weakness, numbness, visual symptoms, or confusion.

Managing High Blood Pressure

Salt spilling out of glass shaker and onto the table
Manage your high blood pressure by reducing salt intake – WHO recommends less than 5g daily for hypertensive patients.

As headaches related to high blood pressure are merely a secondary symptom, massages only provide relief and do not address the primary cause. Therefore, it’s important to manage your hypertension to keep its symptoms under control.

Diet and lifestyle changes

Apart from taking hypertension medicines prescribed by your doctor, you should also pay attention to your diet and lifestyle. The World Health Organization (WHO) offers a few useful tips:  

  • cut down on salt (take only less than 5g daily) 
  • consume more fresh fruits and vegetables 
  • reduce alcohol 
  • quit smoking 
  • limit foods high in saturated fats and stay away from trans fat  
  • manage stress effectively 
  • check your blood pressure regularly

Eastern remedies

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is also an excellent way to manage hypertension. For people who have high blood pressure, an individual’s body constitution and accompanying symptoms and ailments are addressed through herbal remedies and food intake, as well as improving daily lifestyle habits, such as exercising regularly, getting ample sleep and rest, and sodium reduction. 

Food that can help manage hypertension include black fungus, celery, broccoli, mushroom, spinach, black beans, almonds, fresh sunflower seeds, tomato, brown rice, and bananas. Additionally, essence of chicken can help with replenishing blood and qi. Make sure you consume those that do not contain salt, artificial flavouring, or caramel colouring. 

Chu I Ta, Chief TCM Physician from the Real Health Medical clinic in Singapore, recommends the following teas for lowering your blood pressure: 

  • Chrysanthemum tea (菊花茶): restores balance in the liver, nourishes the eyes, clears heat, and detoxes the body. 
  • Hawthorn tea (山楂茶): has the effect of vasodilation while reducing blood pressure and cholesterol level. 
  • Lotus leaf tea (荷叶茶): clears heat, cools blood, eases bleeding, and offers a vasodilation effect 
  • Sophora japonica tea (槐花茶): clears excessive heat fire in the liver and brightens the eyes 
  • Polygonum multiflorum tea (首乌茶): tonifies the liver and kidney, reduces cholesterol, and strengthens the tendons and bones 

Consult a certified TCM physician before consuming these teas or using any herbal ingredients. Your physician may also recommend additional ingredients to add to each tea for specific purposes.

“Diet aside, acupuncture, acupressure, and scraping techniques can help alleviate high blood pressure symptoms,” Physician Chu adds. The acupressure points for hypertension include:  

  • Qu Chi, which is located at the midway between the lateral end of the transverse cubital end and the lateral epicondyle of the humerus – when the elbow is flexed 
  • Tai Chong within the dorsum (top) of the foot, in the depression of about two-finger spacing from the web of the first and second toe.  

Headaches are one of the secondary symptoms of hypertension. Along with medication, you can consider massage therapy to help relieve pain in the head and reduce your blood pressure. Always discuss your treatment options with your healthcare provider and consult a TCM physician on the right kind of massage for your condition.

References

  1. Journal of Human Hypertension. 2014. Massage therapy for essential hypertension: a systematic review.  [Accessed 20 Jan 2022] 
  2. Patient’s Education MyHEALTH. 2016. Hypertension and Headache.  [Accessed 20 Jan 2022] 
  3. Current Pain and Headache Reports. 2019. The Hypertensive Headache: a Review.  [Accessed 20 Jan 2022] 
  4. National Library of Medicine. 2021. The effectiveness and safety of Tuina for tension-type headache: A systematic review and meta-analysis.  [Accessed 20 Jan 2022] 
  5. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Why Gua Sha Might Be Good For You.  [Accessed 20 Jan 2022] 
  6. American Massage Therapy Association. 2018. Massage and Headache Relief.  [Accessed 20 Jan 2022] 
  7. Moyer Total Wellness. 2021. Massage for Tension Headaches.  [Accessed 20 Jan 20 

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