Release the tension
Recently, we have developed a series of blog posts dedicated to addressing therapies for the most common types of physical pain, which begins with a conversation about back pain, and sums up with the transition to the current conversation about headaches that we made two weeks ago. This week, we continue the discussion, but first. . .
A review, what is headache pain?
Pain in general is the body’s way of letting you know something is wrong. These articles will focus on the kinds of headache pain that I treat in my practice.
Generally, my patients experience one of the following types of headaches:
- Tension headaches
- Sinus headaches
- Cluster headaches
My first clue
Here in my practice, when a new patient fills out the standard intake form, more often than not the 'yes' option is checked next to the question, "Do you suffer from stress?" Additionally, the next 'yes' that is checked is for the question, "Do you have headaches?" Beyond these two items, the other questions that are answered in the affirmative inquire about neck and shoulder muscle soreness or pain. Taken altogether, this is a great recipe for a tension headache.
Why so tense?
Tension headaches are usually stress related. Stress comes in many forms and its symptoms are unique to each individual. The one manifestation that seems to be somewhat universal is the headache. Most people describe a “pain like muscle soreness” near the base of the skull, which then radiates down into the neck and top of the shoulders. It could be on one side of the body or both. Sometimes a patient might feel tightness at his or her temples, or a sensation of having a tight hatband around his or her head.
With that much stress, muscles tighten up and we raise our shoulders until they seem to be touching your ear lobes! Then we walk around like that for weeks, maybe months... dare I say years! The muscles can’t hold that type of contraction over a period of time without some kind of adverse effect. It’s like holding a hand stand for several days — not a good idea.
How do I relieve my tension headache?
Tension headaches can be treated in a variety of ways:
- Massage therapy comes to mind (I wonder why)! There's simply nothing like good old Swedish massage to work those tension knots out of body.
- Craniosacral therapy works for those who have so much tension that it aggravates problems like temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction in addition to the headache.
- Acupuncture also helps. There is a point on the head behind the ear I call "the Valium spot." When I get a needle there I immediately relax and my headache is gone.
- Acupressure is a viable technique because you can do it to yourself. Using the thumb and forefinger of one hand, apply direct pressure in the space between your thumb and forefinger of the opposite hand and breathe deeply.
- Speaking of self help — why do we love to have our shoulders rubbed? Because it feels good! This simple act helps to relieve tension in the muscles thus making any potential headache less intense. If you can’t get to a massage therapist, have a friend rub your shoulders. While they’re at it, have them rub your temples and massage your hands. (I’m extremely happy when my hands are worked on.)
- How about a hug? No kidding, hugs are important! Getting a hug activates the vagus nerve, which is the very nerve that sends the signal to the brain to release the feel good stuff. We don’t hug enough. I mean a real grab-you-and-hold-on type of hug. We are too worried about personal space. It is my professional opinion that hugs are very important.
Knowing is half the battle
When I see a patient rubbing the side of their neck and top of their shoulder, it’s pretty obvious where I need to start my treatment. I have to get the muscles loose and the circulation going in order to relieve the contraction that is causing the headache. More importantly, for the patient, is finding the “trigger” for the tension and devising a way of handling it, so as to prevent the tension headache in the future.
Hope this helps you along your life journey. These treatments are the tip of the iceberg. If anyone has questions or information regarding the treatment of tension headaches please share in the comments section of this article.
Next week we’ll talk about sinus headaches because, well... 'tis the season!
peace and love