Tension headaches

“Tense, nervous headaches…”

Well, I am old enough to remember the advert used by a company to promote their tablets for the relief of headache pain. These painkillers are effective and reduce the symptoms but do not get to the root cause of the headache.

Headaches generally fall into two categories:

  1. Primary headaches, which are the most common type and include tension headaches, migraines and cluster headaches.
  2. Secondary headaches, which have an underlying cause such as too much alcohol, concussion, cold/flu, hormonal influences and tempero-mandibular joint pain.

(Source:  www.nhs.uk/headaches)

The vast majority of headaches are tension related. A number of studies exist which show that massage is proven to be effective in treating these types of headaches as well as improving sleep quality in people who suffer from them.

I tend to only ever have a headache if I have a bad head cold. For some of my clients it can be very different and I recall one conversation I had with someone who, when I asked how often they had a headache, replied ‘A normal amount,‘ so I asked what a normal amount was and she replied ‘Every day’. That is not normal in my experience! Fortunately after a few treatments her headaches decreased quite markedly, to the point where I would just see her every couple of months for headache maintenance.


So how does massage work?

Treatments for tension headaches will work both front and back of the neck and shoulders to look for knots or adhesions that might be causing the problem. Sometimes when an area is worked the client can feel the headaches developing, this is an indication of trigger point pain. By massaging the muscles, applying heat and stretching, the adhesions can be worked out, muscles re-aligned and headache pain decreases.

Usually a short burst of regular massage therapy is needed to ensure muscles do not return to the knotted position they were in originally when they were causing the headaches. As the knots reduce and the frequency of headaches decrease, appointments can be eked out.


What else might be contributing to my headaches?

From my experience with my clients there are a number of factors that can also cause headaches and if you suffer from them regularly it might be worthwhile checking if any of these factors apply to you.

  1. Are you drinking enough fluid? Frequently clients can resolve their headaches by ensuring they drink 2 litres of fluid a day. Central heating in winter, sweating in summer can affect your own hydration levels so try an extra glass of water if you feel a headache developing and see if that helps.
  2. Working from a laptop that is not correctly positioned for you? Well not only can this cause headaches but it can really affect your posture, and not in a good way! If your head is pointing down at your lap some of the muscles in the front of your neck are working so hard to contract and hold your head in that position while muscles down the back of the neck try to maintain balance that you can develop ‘forward head posture’. Try operating the laptop on a desk with the screen at eye level and use a separate keyboard so shoulders are not hunched up.
  3. Similarly if you hot desk the PC might not be set up for you and the screen height could mean you are tilting your head to see it correctly and overworking some small muscles in the back of your neck causing headaches.  Adjust the screen height and see if that reduces tension in the upper part of your neck.
  4. Certain foods may act as triggers for headaches or migraines: coffee, chocolate and cheese are the main culprits but keeping a food diary and seeing if there are any relationships between what you eat and your headaches might be an area you would like to explore.
  5. Grinding your teeth can cause jaw pain and tension that can contribute to headaches. Speak to your dentist but a massage therapist who can work in and around the mouth and neck may help reduce the tension in this area and any resultant headaches.
  6. Tension can build up if there is a lack of physical activity. Try to ensure that you at least take a brisk walk during your lunch hour. See if you can do a regular activity such as football, squash, dancing, yoga or tai chi ‒ anything you think you would enjoy to get you moving!
  7. However if you are always on the go and are exhausted from working hard, looking after family, socialising, etc  then you might have a headache because you are overtired so get some rest. You can’t burn the candle at both ends…
  8. Get your eyes checked! Squinting or peering over glasses that have fallen down your nose can again cause your neck muscles to tighten and again lead to headaches. A trip to the opticians will quickly resolve the problem.

Although not exhaustive, I hope this checklist of factors that contribute to causing headaches may prove useful. However, if you have gone through the list and still have a headache that you feel is muscular in its origin then why don’t you book an appointment to visit a massage therapist.


Susan Harrison

Powertouch Therapy


© Susan Harrison 2014, Powertouch Therapy




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