Massage Therapy for Headache Relief
Everyone experiences headaches. They range from minor nuisances to nagging pains, and can even be debilitating in the cases of migraines and cluster headaches. Scientific American explains, "Narrowly defined, headache is pain in the head or face, and sometimes also includes pain in the upper neck. Pain-sensitive structures in the head and face include the skin, bone and structures in the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Also, the large blood vessels of the head are exquisitely sensitive and these are the principal organs causing pain in vascular headaches, such as migraines. The jaw hinge (called the temporomandibular joint) and the teeth can also generate headache. The brain itself is not pain sensitive and is not a source of head pain."
Some of the most common types of headaches are:
- Tension Headaches: Tension headaches are the most common headache variety. They happen when muscle contractions in the head cause a dull, symmetrical ache on both sides of the head and sometimes the neck. Tension headaches typically cause mild to moderate pain that is sometimes reported as feeling like a squeezing sensation around the head. They can be episodic, lasting 30 minutes to one week, or chronic, lasting 15 days or more per month for three months. It is estimated that up to 80% of the U.S. population experiences episodic tension headaches while just 3% suffer from the chronic variety. In the past, tension headaches were often referred to as "muscle contraction headaches" or "stress headaches."
- Triggers: Stress, eye strain, diet, poor posture, lack of sleep.
- Migraines: Migraines are less common than tension headaches, but still affect a substantial amount of people. They occur when abnormal brain activity affects circulation and chemical composition in the brain, leading to a throbbing pain typically felt on only one side of the head. Migraines can cause severe throbbing pains that last for hours or days, and in some cases, can be debilitating. A study from the National Headache Foundation found that 12% of Americans experience migraines and that 9 out of 10 migraine sufferers reported that they couldn’t “function normally” throughout the day when a migraine strikes. It also found that 98% of migraine sufferers take medication for temporary relief. Women are estimated to be more than twice as likely to experience migraines than men.
- Triggers: Genetics, stress, eye strain, hormonal changes, diet, environmental factors like altitude and humidity, lack of sleep.
- Cluster Headaches: Cluster headaches are less common than both tension headaches and migraines. They are said to appear when the trigeminal nerve in the brain causes intense pain on one side of the head and sometimes around the eye. Cluster headaches occur in what is known as a cluster period. They can appear up to 8 times a day during cluster periods, which can last anywhere from a week to several months with each individual headache lasting up to 90 minutes. Cluster headaches are particularly bothersome as they often wake sufferers up in the middle of the night, making it difficult to get back to sleep until the pain subsides. They occur slightly more frequently in men.
- Triggers: Diet, head trauma, genetics.
Massage for Headache Relief
Massage Therapy is a natural remedy that can help both reduce headache frequency and relieve symptoms.
In Tension Headaches, Massage Therapy can help circulate blood to the muscles in the head that contract to cause discomfort...this, in turn, warms and relaxes them to quell aches. There are a variety of self-massage techniques that can help relieve tension headaches. We describe one such technique below;
Use your thumbs to press firmly onto the bridge of your nose just below your forehead. Hold firmly for 15 seconds while taking deep breaths, repeat 3-5 times.
Next, use your thumbs again to press firmly above the bridge of your nose towards your forehead. Hold firmly for 15 seconds while taking deep breaths, repeat 3-5 times.
After that, use both hands to lightly pinch your eyebrows for 15 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times while taking deep breaths.
Lastly, use your fingers to press firmly into your temples in a circular motion for 15 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times while taking deep breaths.
As preventative medicine, frequent Massage Therapy can stimulate the production of the body’s mood-regulating hormones, like serotonin and dopamine. Maintaining a healthy hormonal balance helps keep stress in check to stop stress-related headaches before they start in addition to improving sleep quality. Supporting healthy circulation and hormonal balance through massage therapy along with living a healthy lifestyle can drastically reduce the frequency and severity of recurring headache symptoms.
It might be impossible to avoid headaches completely, but Massage Therapy can help both prevent headaches and relieve headache symptoms without the intervention of drugs. If you suffer from recurrent headaches, consider investing in a truMedic massager to help improve your quality of life.