Massage therapy is sometimes recommended by doctors to help alleviate tension patterns in the neck and shoulders related to the initial concussion. Massage can also be helpful to reduce symptoms from a concussion or post-concussion syndrome such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Some massage therapists offer Cupping Therapy which may also help with concussion symptoms.
Reduce muscle tension in head and neck
It is common to sustain whiplash or minor neck injuries when the concussion occurs. Significant muscle tension in the neck and shoulders can also develop because of bracing against concussion-related headaches. By helping to reduce muscle tension in the head and neck, massage may promote healing from concussions and post-concussion syndrome.
The Brain Injury Association of Washington states that "based on anecdotal evidence provided by those seeking services with BIAWA," massage therapy "has been beneficial for some individuals throughout their recovery."
Help with the alignment of head, neck, and spine
Some massage therapists also work with the alignment of the head, neck, and spine, which reduces concussion symptoms. A case study for using massage techniques for post-concussion syndrome can be found here. Some massage practitioners also do some level of craniosacral work which is particularly helpful for concussions, see craniosacral therapy.
Cupping Therapy - see the bottom of this page
Finding a massage therapist with experience working with concussion patients
Massage therapists with training in craniosacral therapy
One way to find a massage therapist who has experience with concussions is to look for a practitioner with some training in craniosacral therapy, which focuses specifically on the head, brain, and spinal cord. You may want the practitioner to focus on symptoms in your neck or shoulders; most of the practitioners listed in these search tools are massage therapists in addition to having training in craniosacral therapy. We suggest you use all three of the search tools below because they have different databases.
For a list of suggested questions to ask a prospective massage therapist in terms of their experience with concussions, see our page on craniosacral therapy.
The Brain Injury Alliance often has state-specific databases of healthcare practitioners
Each state has its own independent chapter of the Brain Injury Alliance - for example, The Brain Injury Alliance of Washington. Some chapters have an extensive database of state-wide practitioners who focus on concussions and brain injuries. These databases can be both online information and "resource line specialists" who answer thousands of phone calls each year from people looking for healthcare practitioners focusing on concussions.
Information about credentials for craniosacral therapy
The text below in this section is from our professional contributor Lauren M. Christman, LMT, CBSI/KMI, CCST, who is a practitioner, author, and teacher.
Currently, there is not a unified national credential for CST. Instead, individual schools provide certification programs to prepare students. Most require over 200 hours of training, beyond an initial license to touch (such as massage therapist.) Many practitioners also have a background in massage therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy or a form of psychological or spiritual counseling.
Please note: it is possible for someone to have little or no training and still advertise as a CST — if you have an acute or complex condition, it is important and appropriate to inquire about a practitioners training and practice experience.
We've found that Cupping Therapy is helpful for concussion and post-concussion syndrome symptoms, and some massage therapists do this work in as part of their practice. Cupping Therapy is an ancient form of medicine practiced world-wide. A July 2015 article in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine references studies showing Cupping helped with chronic neck pain, pain management in general, headaches, anxiety, and insomnia.
The cups are made of glass, bamboo, earthenware or silicone. The therapist lights a small amount of flammable substance in the cup, and as the flame goes out, puts the cup upside down onto the skin. It takes about five minutes to apply multiple cups to the area, which are then left on for between five and twenty minutes. A vacuum is created as the cup cools, causing the skin to rise and blood vessels to expand, which therapists believe improves blood flow to the area improving recovery.
Our experience is that Cupping reduces concussion symptoms, possibly because Cupping along the length of the spine may be improving the flow of cerebral spinal fluid.
Cupping leaves temporary purple marks on the skin. Michael Phelps had visible cupping marks on his shoulders and his back when he won multiple gold medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics. A WebMD article references Michael Phelps use of Cupping Therapy; in the article, Dr. Iman Majd at the University of Washington (Seattle) talks about Cupping Therapy decreasing pain, improving mobility, and improving the healing process.