Tension Headaches: Causes and Simple Relief

simple ways to relief tension headachesIn our massage practice we often observe clients’ complaints of headaches, with various descriptions of pain, listed on their medical history form. As we all know through our own experiences with headaches, pain can be felt in the frontal, temporal or occipital areas and sometimes confined to one side of the head or to the region immediately over one eye. Pain varies from person to person and depending on the specific type of headache, acute or chronic, for example, we may feel a dull ache or we may experience an almost unbearable sensation. The pain is intermittent, but intense and throbbing for some, while others describe  intense pressure as if their head will burst. One thing is for sure: headaches are not fun and can limit our ability to function.

Common causes for tension headaches are: life’s everyday stress, worry, poor posture and/or improper body mechanics, especially while typing (as in writing this article with my head pulled forward too long), prolonged reading, and long distance driving, to name a few easily correctable causes.

Tension headaches are the most common type and involve both the Frontalis and the Occipitalis muscles. As separate muscles, the Frontalis allows you to raise your eyebrows horizontally as in “elbows off the table, kids,” and the Occipitalis allows you to move the scalp over the cranium as in “watch me wiggle my ears, kids.”

Collectively referred to as Occipitofrontalis, this muscle group is a two-bellied muscle named to reflect its locations and functions on the head. This important muscle is connected by an extensive network of cranial fascia, a thin layer of connective tissue that covers and supports the muscle. Through application of therapeutic massage and gentle stretching techniques, associated pain stemming from this muscle group can be minimized or eliminated.

Simple changes, such as sitting in a firm or supportive chair versus a fluffy chair, can make a big difference. And when doing anything that causes repetitive strain on your eyes, neck, and back, it is wise to pause, change position, or walk and stretch for a few minutes.

Light stretches of the neck can be helpful, too. Sit erect and lean your left ear toward your left shoulder. Don’t raise your shoulder during this movement. The goal is to relieve tension, so don’t force any stretches. Think light and easy during the stretches. Repeat the process with your right ear to your right shoulder and repeat the entire process at least three times. Rotate your head to the left, then right, in a circular pattern. Repeat slowly, at least six times. Breathe deeply after each series and relax. Next, bring your head slowly forward as if trying to place your chin on your sternum. Hold this position for a few seconds, relax and breathe. Then slowly move your head backward as if trying to touch your collar. Repeat at least four times, relax and breathe.

Massage your temples simultaneously and hold pressure for ten seconds, then release and repeat at least three times. Therapeutic massage can do wonders for tension headaches and licensed massage therapists (called LMT’s in Florida) are well trained to provide immediate relief in most cases.

These simple techniques are not intended as a cure for any ailment or disease. It is wise to consult your physician before proceeding with any stretching program.

Nancy Shores, LMT, Esthetician

Love what you do. Enjoy listening to people. It can be hard work, but the potential for helping people is tremendous.
~Robert Tisserand

(Quote shared from Massage Therapy Principles and Practice by Susan G. Salvo)