We often see clients who suffer from tension headaches: that is, headaches caused by muscular stress and strain, which usually occur in the back of the head, behind the eyes, around the temples or around the forehead. In fact, they are very common, with up to 78% of the population suffering periodic episodes of pain in the skull and neck regions. The incidence of these headaches is only increasing.
Tension headaches can be brought on, or worsened by stress, bad posture, staying in one position for too long, lack of exercise and even an unhealthy diet. Often, more than one of these factors are implicated in tension headache symptoms. Stress is a particularly nefarious inciter of painful headaches, which can be debilitating to the point where the individual cannot function normally in their day-to-day lives.
The medical establishment is notoriously powerless when it comes to preventing and curing these symptoms. Muscular pain is generally treated with the application of painkillers, which simply mask the problem. The issue here is that pain is merely an indicator that something is wrong in the body: that damage is being done. Clearly we need to look more deeply into the issue, to the source of your pain, to discover how to bring relief: not from dulling the senses, but by seeking out the root of the problem.
This is where massage comes in. Researchers at the University of Granada found in 2010 that simple massage lasting just 30 minutes had a lasting effect upon the subjects for the next 24 hours. They experienced reduced muscle tension, and in turn, much diminished signs of tension headaches (and no doubt, quite pleased subjects).
Techniques your therapist may apply include broad, warming strokes to help dissolve adhesion in the fascia (which coats muscles, nerves and blood vessels like a bag, allowing internal structures to glide over each other smoothly, while binding other structures together) kneading of the muscles, deep strokes and more focused work, such as trigger-point pressure therapy.
A mini self-massage can be applied by first massaging the temples, applying pressure for 20 seconds, then in a clockwise motion, for another 20 seconds. Next, use the same firm pressure in tiny circular movements up and along your hairline, meeting in the centre of your head. You can also apply pressure to the space between the brows with a finger for about 20 seconds to reduce tension between in your forehead. Finally, pinch down the side of your SCM muscle (short for sternocleidomastoid... try saying that ten times fast!), extending from the back of your ear down the side of your neck (it stands out when you tip your head to the side - apply this technique when head is in a straight position however). Tiny pressures can also be applied around the base of the skull, if this is where you are experiencing pain.
Outside of massage, there's a few other tips you can use to reduce tension headache symptoms.
*As Eye strain often contributes to tension headaches. Rest your eyes periodically, particularly from reading things on computer screens. The backlight and screen refresh functions on computers can stress your eye muscles. Close your eyes, cup them in the palm of your hands and press gently for a couple of minutes. This may leave your eyesight blurry for a few seconds afterwards, but is reducing tension I your eyes by effectively applying pressure-point massage to them.
*Stretches are useful for reducing tension in the head, by freeing up the surrounding structures of the neck and shoulders. Stretches including the muscles of the side of the neck are particularly beneficial. Try a few of those listed here to help improve your range of movement and reduce pain.
*Foods that can help reduce the incidence of tension headaches include whole grains, soy, fish, poultry and plant-based oils. Some people suffer headaches as a result of an intolerance to dairy. If your symptoms flare up after consuming dairy products, soy can be particularly useful. Fish and lean poultry help because of their lower levels of saturated fat and additives. Plant-based oils improve heart function, nutrient absorption and brain function.
As all structures in the body are ultimately inter-connected, the cause of pain is often to be found far from the site of your discomfort. In this way, your therapist is something of a physiological sleuth, tracing the clues of pain, discomfort, and posture, back to their source. It may well be that an overused muscle in your arm or chest is committing the crime! For this reason, regular massage is useful to really get at the root of your discomfort. As aforementioned, even half an hour is enough to make a small difference on your pain. If you want a more in-depth assessment, however, a longer treatment is preferable.