Most of us only experience a scalp massage when we're at the salon, which is too bad. A good head rub incorporates all the great things we love about any other type of massage -- the pressure and rhythmic movements on the body's soft tissue not only encourages us to relax, which already sounds good, but also may be a remedy for that crick in your neck.
Massage therapy is good therapy for pain reduction, and it has also been shown to boost alertness and immunity. And did you know that massage may be more effective therapy for back pain (and other common aches and pains) than acupuncture or a trip to the chiropractor?
Scalp massage can improve your mood
There are a few reasons why the pressure and kneading of a scalp massage may help improve your mood. First, of course, it feels good. But there's more to it than that. Massage therapy may lift your mood and your sense of well-being. How? Hormones. Specifically three hormones: serotonin, dopamine and cortisol.
Serotonin imbalances are known to be associated with mood disorders, specifically depression. Dopamine, too, plays a role in mood; think of it as the reward and pleasure hormone. A study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that massage therapy had a positive impact on the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body, which translates into a positive impact on our mood. Serotonin levels increased an average of 28 percent after a massage session, and dopamine by an average of 31 percent. Massage also helps lower the levels of the stress-hormone cortisol in our bodies by an average of 31 percent [source: Field]. This hormone is involved in our fight-and-flight response and when we have too much circulating through our body we're at risk for chronic inflammation and a weakened immune system.
Massage therapy for migraine relief
Scalp massage is also beneficial for migraine sufferers. Migraines are painful, throbbing headaches and some sufferers also often complain of nausea, vomiting, fatigue as well as changes in vision, smell, hearing and taste.
According to a study published in The Journal of Headache Pain migraine patients who had regular massages reported as much as a 71 percent reduction in pain compared to those who did not have massages. Additionally, a study done in New Zealand found that patients who had massage therapy had fewer migraines and improved sleep during the study as well as for three weeks after the study's end when compared to sufferers who did not have massages [source: Chaibi].
Those who suffer from stress-triggered migraines and other types of headaches may find relief from reduced muscle tension in the back of the head, the neck and the shoulders. Massage also helps improve blood circulation, possibly a key component to reducing the pain and/or frequency of migraines, which are associated with reduced blood flow to the brain.
Beyond fingertips: Scalp massage brushes
Head massaging tools aren't a new idea -- at salons the beginning of the 20th century you might find yourself treated to a mechanical rubber-fingered head rub courtesy of a massage-delivering machine.
Today if you're looking for something more than fingers and hands on your head -- and you don't have a salon appointment -- there are gadgets out there such as scalp massage brushes to help with your head rub.
Scalp massage brushes are smaller than hairbrushes, only about the size of a tennis ball, with thick bristles made just for the job at hand (the bristles on your hairbrush are designed for hair, while the bristles on a scalp brush as, you guessed it, designed for the scalp).
Massage brushes will give you the same benefits as a massage done with hands, fingers and thumbs, and if you use it while you shower you'll also add additional scalp-cleaning and root-strengthening benefits to your shampoo routine.
DIY scalp massage
While you might prefer someone else to do the kneading, giving yourself a scalp massage is pretty easy; it's really nothing more than rubbing your head with your hands and applying pressure to different points with your fingertips. The best part? You don't need to make a spa appointment to treat yourself to the benefits of massage.
Begin with your fingertips and gently rub all over your head (don't forget your face), then slowly turn those movements into larger, wider circles. Knead the muscles in the back of your neck with your hands, and press firmly with your fingertips and thumbs to release tension along the spine and hairline. To relax your shoulders and arms, massage each side with the opposite hand. For example, begin massaging your left shoulder with your right hand, and continue rubbing down your left arm. Repeat on the right side with your left hand.
Ayurvedic scalp massage
You may find your massage therapist uses more than just fingertips to work out the knots and soothe muscle tension in your body. Most of us are familiar with the types of massage that involve fingers and hands, and maybe elbows and forearms as well -- but there are also forms of massage such as shiatsu, a deep-tissue massage, where a therapist walks all over you, literally. While that may break the tension in your back, what about the scalp?
Head massage is common practice in Indian culture and is part of the ayurvedic tradition, a form of holistic medicine. Ayurvedic scalp massage includes massaging the whole head, including the forehead, face, ears and chin as well as the neck, shoulders, upper back, arms and hands. Some practitioners incorporate essential oils into massage, helping you achieve a meditative state during the session. Ayurvedic scalp massage is believed to not only give us balance by reducing tension, anxiety and stress in the body but it may also stimulate the lymphatic system.
For more information, see the links on the next page.
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- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Massage Therapy
- Scalp Massage Basics
- Chaibi, Aleksander; Tuchin, Peter J.; and Michael Bjorn Russell. “Manual therapies for migraine: a systematic review.” The Journal of Headache Pain. Vol. 12, no. 2. Pages 127-133. 2011. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3072494/
- Field, T.; Hernandez-Reif, M.; Diego, M.; Schanberg, S.; and C. Kuhn. “Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy.” The International Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 115, no. 10. Pages 1397-1413. 2005. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16162447
- Lewis, Kristyn Kusek. “Massage: It's real medicine.” CNN. 2007. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/03/08/healthmag.massage/
- Mayo Clinic. "Migraine." 2009. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache/DS00120/DSECTION=causes
- Mayo Clinic. "Tension Headache." 2009. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tension-headache/DS00304/DSECTION=lifestyle%2Dand%2Dhome%2Dremedies
- Metha, Narenda. “That's Using Your Head.” Yoga Journal. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.yogajournal.com/health/61
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). "Massage Therapy: An Introduction." 2006. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://nccam.nih.gov/health/massage/
- Osborn, Karrie. “Indian Head Massage.” Massage & Bodywork Magazine. Jan. 2005 (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.massagetherapy.com/articles/index.php/article_id/885/Indian-Head-Massage
- PETCO. "Lentek Koolatron Ionic Waterless Pet Massage Brush." 2009. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.petco.com/product/100472/Lentek-Koolatron-Ionic-Waterless-Pet-Massage-Brush.aspx
- Segrave, Kerry. "Baldness: A Social History." 1996. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=_gtCUiP0ZDUC&pg=PA51&lpg=PA51&dq=scalp+massage%2Bjournal&source=bl&ots=PfNPaPUeT4&sig=NCI-Y55wlmAFtt77O1R_WbD6KZI&hl=en&ei=2hy8SviVI9XU8AbNvKiSDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8#v=onepage&q=scalp%20massage%2Bjournal&f=false
- Seliger, Susan. "Massage Therapy for Stress Relief and Much More." WebMD. 2008. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/massage-therapy-stress-relief-much-more
- WebMD. "Alternative Treatments for Migraines and Headaches." 2006. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/balance/nontraditional-headache-treatments?page=2
- WebMD. "Chronic Pain -- Other Treatment." 2009. (Nov. 13, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/tc/chronic-pain-other-treatment