It would be a fortunate person who could go through life without suffering from a headache. Everyone gets one occasionally and many suffer from them chronically. A minor headache can be irritating enough to ruin your day and a serious one can be completely debilitating. Headaches are one of the leading causes of lost productivity worldwide. I will discuss the most common types of headaches, their causes, and how you can utilize massage as a drug-free alternative to prevent and manage them.
Approximately 90% of all headaches are classified as tension-type headaches. These are caused by musculoskeletal problems such as muscle tension, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, misalignment of the vertebrae of the neck, and irritation of the ligaments around the vertebrae of the neck. About 7% are migraines, cluster, and sinus classified as vascular headaches. Migraines and cluster headaches can have many different triggers such as bright lights, noise, medications, stress, and muscle tension. Sinus headaches are often seasonal and accompany allergies or upper respiratory tract infections. The pain felt by all of these types of headaches is thought to come from a cascade of neurotransmitters, the chemicals nerve cells in the brain use to communicate with each other as well as changes in blood flow that irritate the sensory nerves in the coverings of the brain.
For minor headaches most people reach for an over the counter pain med like aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen. These drugs are classified as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). If your headaches are infrequent this isn’t a problem. However, if you find yourself popping these pills frequently for headaches or any type of pain you may be headed for trouble. NSAIDs can cause ulcers of the stomach, excessive bleeding, and liver or kidney failure. There are much better and safer ways to manage most headaches.
Both tension headaches and migraines can be caused or exacerbated by tight muscles. Trigger points are small areas of tension in muscles that can cause local irritation or refer pain to other areas. When located in muscles of the jaw, face and neck they can refer pain to the head and cause headaches. Most everyone has tension and trigger points in their neck muscles due to the forward and sometimes twisted neck postures from texting, reading, studying, driving, computer use and other postural distortions. Old neck injuries from car accidents, bike wrecks, or falls can come back to haunt you years later in the form of neck pain and muscle tightness. Muscle tension can also be a cause or result of misaligned vertebrae in the neck and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. Stress plays a role by causing you to clench your jaw or tense muscles in your face, head, and neck as well as causing the release of hormones that may trigger headaches.
Because massage therapy is so effective in treating muscular tightness, trigger points and postural imbalances it is an excellent way to prevent and arrest headaches. Research has shown that massage can reduce the frequency of tension headaches and may reduce both the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches. Sinus headaches also benefit from massage through loosening and moving mucus out of the sinuses, stimulating sinus acupressure points, and assisting movement of the lymphatic system.
In my practice I have several clients who have come in complaining of frequent headaches along with neck and shoulder pain. Often one treatment gives immediate relief and regular massages greatly decrease the frequency of pain and headaches. I also have had clients come in when they feel a migraine coming on and have often been able to decrease its intensity or halt it altogether.
Here are some ways in which therapeutic massage can treat migraine, sinus and tension headaches:
· Relax tight muscles and reduce trigger points
· Treat postural distortions
· Decrease stress hormones and increase serotonin production
· Increase quality of sleep
· Assist in sinus drainage
· Stimulate healing of irritated ligaments and inflamed tissues
· Help treat temporomandibular joint dysfunction
In addition to treating the muscles associated with your headache I can help you assess what activities and postures might be contributing to the headache-causing tension. By making small changes in your postural habits you can stop the repetitive muscle strain that causes the tension and trigger points in the first place. Once the problem areas are identified I can also recommend and demonstrate self-massage techniques you can use at home and work to help manage your pain.