Posted by: WillowSource on 08/11/2017

Surprising Benefits of Shiatsu Massage Revealed by Migraine Study

Surprising Benefits of Shiatsu Massage Revealed by Migraine Study

by Aimee Hughes, ND  

I can count the number of times I’ve treated myself to a massage on one hand. As a certified naturopath who believes in the body’s innate power to heal itself (with the help of alternative healing modalities), I recently realized it was time to up my self-care treatments. I now enjoy bi-monthly shiatsu table massages with a trusted and certified practitioner named Joy.

It’s been about two months now since starting Joy’s shiatsu treatments, and I can honestly say that they are truly wonderful. Immediately after my treatment, I feel calm and grounded. The next day I typically feel some aches, fatigue, and sometimes even a sense of melancholy, which is great because I know my body is going through its natural healing process (I'll describe this "healing response" later in this article). Which is why I wanted to share with you some of the evidence-based research regarding this Japanese bodywork technique. But first, a little history on shiatsu.

Shiatsu was born in Japan and has its roots in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine). Like acupressure, shiatsu embraces the concept of energetic medicine---yin and yang, meridians, and chi (Ki). Translated as “finger pressure,” a shiatsu practitioner uses his or her fingers, elbows, knees, and feet to put pressure on meridian acupoints. This manipulation is believed to balance and promote the flow of chi (Ki) throughout the body.

According to this report published by the University of Minnesota, shiatsu’s benefits are both preventative and remedial, and help relieve the following conditions: stress and anxiety, sleep disorders such as insomnia, digestive problems, headaches, muscle stiffness, PMS, back pain, joint pain, fibromyalgia, and even emotional disorders.   

In addition, this report published by the University of Leeds in England, found that approximately 66% of the Austrian, Spanish, and British shiatsu clients who took part in their study reported that they ‘felt energy moving or blockages being released,’ post-treatment. Over 95% reported ‘feeling relaxed or calmer’ after their shiatsu treatment, and more than ⅔ said they felt ‘more energized,’ ‘more able to cope with things,’ or ‘more balanced.’ Approximately 50% of the participants reported sleep improvement. 

Yet another study, this one published at examined shiatsu’s effects on those suffering from refractory primary headaches (a.k.a. migraines). Researchers conducted a single-blind, randomized pilot study which combined shiatsu and amitriptyline for headache treatment. 

This study is timely, given the fact that while substantial studies have proven shiatsu’s benefits, few, if any, have combined shiatsu with pharmacological treatments. During the course of a three-month period, participants were divided into three groups---thirty seven of which received shiatsu plus amitriptyline, thirteen who received just shiatsu, and yet another thirteen participants which were treated with amitriptyline alone. 

Results found that all three groups experienced an improvement in regards to frequency of headaches, visual analogue score, and amount of painkillers taken. However, there was no difference between the three groups in terms of the study’s primary endpoint---determined as an over 50% reduction in headache days. And while seven of the subjects reported adverse effects as a result of the amitriptyline, no adverse side effects came with shiatsu treatments.  Thus, shiatsu is indeed a safe and effective method of headache prevention and treatment. 

In fact, no substantial evidence suggests that combining amitriptyline with shiatsu increases the effectiveness of shiatsu alone.  

If you’re a headache sufferer who wants to cut back on taking chemical drugs---be them over-the-counter or otherwise---it’s fair to say that shiatsu is a possibility for you.

Oftentimes after a shiatsu session, you’ll experience temporary headaches, flu-like symptoms, bodily aches, or feelings of heaviness, fatigue, and even sadness. These are simply part of the healing process, often known as the healing response. The healing response is your body’s way of cleansing, detoxing, and balancing itself, and symptoms last anywhere from an hour to 2-3 days. British and German participants in this study also published at, also reported experiencing the transitional effects of the healing response which happened post-treatment but didn’t last long. 

If you’re interested in treating yourself to regular shiatsu treatments, I say, go for it! Shiatsu has been around for many, many years. It’s a tried and true bodywork technique. As more and more studies are done surrounding its health benefits, it will no doubt become as popular as traditional Swedish massage and other popular forms of Western bodywork. 

As with any form of complementary and alternative medicine, be patient. Healing results might take longer than popping a pill, but the healing goes deeper and actually lasts. With that in mind, I hope you all consider a foray into shiatsu. It’s a wonderful way to stay healthy, balanced, and in touch with your body. 

Aimee Hughes, ND has penned hundreds of health and wellness articles. She's the author of The Sexy Vegan Kitchen: Culinary Adventures in Love & Sex (available on Amazon), and senior staff writer for Tao 'N' Zen Botanicals.

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