Date of Award


Degree Type

Selective Evidence-Based Medicine Review

Degree Name

Master of Science in Health Sciences - Physician Assistant



Department Chair

John Cavenagh, PhD, PA-C


OBJECTIVE: The objective of this selective EBM review is to determine whether or not massage therapy is effective as a non-pharmacologic treatment for individuals suffering from migraines.

STUDY DESIGN: Review of all English language primary randomized controlled trials from 1996-2011.

DATA SOURCES: Three randomized controlled trials were found using Pubmed, CINAHL, and Cochrane databases. These compared massage therapy trials in patients suffering from migraine headaches.

OUTCOMES MEASURED: Each trial measured the outcomes in slightly different ways. The Hernandez et al study used the VITAS pain scale, symptom checklist, headache log, and a sleep log to record outcomes. The Lawler et al study used patient daily diaries of headache frequency, intensity, medication use, and sleep behavior. The Lemstra et al study used a headache diary to record pain intensity, duration, frequency, quality of life, functional status, depressive symptoms, medication use, work status, and health status.

RESULTS: There were statistically significant differences between control and intervention groups that received massage therapy in all three studies. Though each study measured different outcomes, all three showed a statistically significant decrease in migraine frequency for those who received that treatment. Hernandez et al study showed a statistically significant decrease in somatic symptomatology and the pain scale. Lawler et al showed an increase in sleep quality. Lemstra et al showed a decrease in pain intensity, pain duration, and depressive symptomatology as well as an increase in functional status for these patients.

CONCLUSIONS: The results show that massage therapy is an effective non-pharmacologic treatment for those who have migraine headaches. It shows a decrease in migraine frequency, duration, somatic symptomatology, and sleep quality. Additional research is needed on the longterm effects of patients to quantify the impact it has on functional status.