Can Bodywork Relieve Headaches?

Can Bodywork Relieve Headaches?

In 1989, after years of suffering massive headaches, ear aches, and pain in my jaw, I was diagnosed with TMJD - temporal mandibular joint dysfunction. The causes of this condition were possibly a combination of: orthodontics, whiplash accidents, tooth grinding, jaw clenching, stress, and heavy handed dentistry.  My symptoms were moderate to severe depending on whether I had done something to trigger a particularly nasty episode - something benign like eating a French roll at dinner, accepting an offer of chewing gum, yawning too broadly, or grinding my teeth at night.


Any of those triggers would cause a loud popping in my jaw and a massive headache would ensue.  These headaches were sneaky and vicious.  They would start as a dull ache around the jaw joint and then blaze a searing streak of white hot pain up into my temples. These headaches would interfere with my vision, and could make me nauseated to the point of being unable to function at work. Not fun.

I remember waking up in the middle of the night with my jaws locked. I could only open my mouth if I used both hands to pry open my jaw! Stress played a big role in this story.  I was in my twenties and life was throwing curve balls at me faster than I could swing or duck! On the surface I thought I was dealing well with everything that was going on in my family and my work life, but at night my body was definitely telling a different story!

My salvation came in the form of a dentist who specialized in treating TMJD and craniofacial pain. He created a bite splint for me that saved my life. Over the years I also learned some coping strategies - avoid tough baked goods, or cutting them into small pieces, avoid gum chewing, learn to manage stress better (I changed jobs!).

Flash forward several decades. I am still managing my TMJD with these strategies, but a new one has offered great relief, and I have been very happy to be able to share this with my clients. Getting regular sessions of a specific type of manual therapy on my head and neck has made a great difference to my quality of life.

 Cranio Sacral Therapy (CST) is very light touch therapy done by licensed health care professionals; osteopathic doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists and massage therapists are the most common practitioners of this method.  CST offers real help and hope to people who suffer from all kinds of headaches. It has been a lifesaver for me and for my clients.

I experienced CST for the first time in massage school and was stunned that a technique with such a light touch could produce such powerful benefits to my body. After graduation, I continued to study and use CST and it has become the foundation of my bodywork practice.

I have worked with clients who have had severe headaches due to TMJD, migraine headaches, sinus headaches, and concussion headaches. All of them reported immediate relief in the first session, and with repeated sessions, many no longer have a chronic issue with headaches.

The following story is typical of CST outcomes for headaches. One of my clients suffered from severe migraine headaches. JD would get such bad headaches they would make her vomit. She would have to lay flat on a bed in a completely silent and darkened room until the pain subsided. She worked for a doctor who had tried to help her with the headaches. His treatments were not successful.  She came to see me, and we worked together over several months. JD got relief during her first session.  After a series of sessions, her migraines had almost disappeared! On the rare occasion when she had them, they were far less severe and did not last as long as they had in the past. JD was very pleased with the outcome CST provided that improved her quality of life.


CST is a very gentle method of helping the body correct and heal itself through the gradual release of restrictions in the connective tissue that encapsulates the brain and spinal cord. Very little pressure is used, so it differs greatly from traditional massage. Most clients experience a session as being very soothing and peaceful. Many dose during the session. At the end of the session, most of my clients report feeling both relaxed and refreshed.

Headaches can have a profound impact on our lives, ranging from nagging chronic pain that makes life unpleasant to severely debilitating pain that makes functioning in daily life impossible. The good news is that there are many non-invasive ways of managing the pain and even reducing  or eliminating headaches through manual therapy.  If you are suffering with chronic headache, I encourage you to look into Cranio-Sacral Therapy.

Lisa Machala is a licensed massage therapist and practitioner of CranioSacral Therapy. She owns Winning Edge Bodywork in Farmington Hills, Michigan. If you would like to book an appointment, please click on  Or visit for more information.