If you’re like the vast majority of people I know, you get several tension headaches per year. At least. Am I right? You may get an average number of headaches compared to your friends and colleagues, but did you know that the average number of headaches far exceeds what is healthy?
So what is a healthy number of headaches? Would you believe that it’s only 3 – 12 per year, depending on which source you believe? That’s anywhere from just under 1 per quarter to 1 per month.
I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned 1 headache is too many. Even with a high pain tolerance, I don’t have time for that. But I know that if I have a headache, something’s out of balance. And I know that most headache remedies aren’t going to address that imbalance or the underlying causes of that imbalance.
So what’s a body to do? Before you reach for the ibuprofen or another cup of coffee, try picking up the phone and scheduling a massage.
If you’re lucky, your massage therapist has an opening and can get you in right away. However, if your therapist is really good and has been in business for a long time, you’ll probably have to wait because she’ll be booked up several days or weeks in advance. Even if you have to wait several days or weeks, schedule an appointment anyway.
You may have to manage this headache in your usual way, but it’s time to start thinking outside the conventional headache box. Instead of waiting until you have a headache and then trying to get rid of it, what if you started reducing the frequency and intensity of your headaches? What if you even began preventing those blasted things in the first place? That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Believe it or not, it’s easier to prevent a headache than to kick it out the door once it takes hold. It’s also more pleasant. All you need is a good massage therapist and a willingness to make a few changes to your stress management tactics. I’ve addressed stress management strategies with regard to headaches in many previous blog posts, so today I’m just going to address the massage aspect.
Put simply, massage is my top pick for both getting rid of an existing headache as well as preventing future ones. And that’s not just because I’m a massage therapist. It’s because, in the hands of a qualified therapist, it fills both roles equally.
So as promised, here are the top 5 ways massage can help your tension headaches. It will:
1. Release your tight neck muscles which pull on your head and make it hurt. Your therapist can also show you some great stretches to help keep them in a lengthened and relaxed state.
2. Soothe and release the throbbing muscles on your scalp and face. In addition to the muscles that hurt, your jaw muscles may also be causing some of your headache pain. Jaw clenching is a common source of headache pain and your therapist can release your jaw muscles during your session and teach you how to do some effective stretches on your own.
3. Release your hip (i.e. butt) muscles. Because headaches are a pain in the neck but can also be a pain in the butt. Literally. There are several ways your hip muscles can cause headaches, but they all have to do with the way the hips or hip muscles pull on the rest of the spinal muscles, which connect to each other until they reach the bottom of your skull. Once the force reaches your head… Bam! Headache. A good massage therapist can assess whether any of your hip muscles might be involved in your headaches and can even show you a few self-care techniques and stretches for them as well.
4. Turn down the fight or flight response that’s causing your neck, scalp, and face muscles to tighten up. One of the natural physiological responses that the body has to stress is to tighten the the neck and shoulder muscles to bring the shoulders up and forward. This puts a strain on the scalp and face muscles until, finally, you’ve got a headache. Massage is a great way to dial down the stress response. Sometimes, a relaxation massage can get rid of a tension headache without any major focus on the tight head and neck muscles.
5. Activate the rest and digest (aka relaxation) response in the body. This is the second phase of relaxation. After dialing down the stress response far enough, the body will naturally switch over to the rest and digest response. This won’t happen, however, if your therapist is using too much pressure and causing you to hold your breath or “breathe through it,” so make sure to speak up if you need them to lighten up. Once your fight or flight mode is turned off, a good therapist can get deep into your muscles without any pain at all. Woo Hoo… focused work on muscles AND relaxation. Whodda thunk? Your therapist can also teach you ways to relax your body and mind when you’re at home or work as well.
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