Most of us are familiar with the sensation of a headache. The location, cause, and severity can differ, but we all agree that headaches hurt! 

When you have a headache, it’s hard to function normally until you find relief. That’s why there are so many techniques for treating headaches. Not all of these techniques are reliable, however. Some only work for certain types of headaches, others are more myth or anecdotal than medical fact. 

Tension headaches are one of the most common types of headaches and are experienced by almost half of all people. That’s a lot of head pain.

Do you tend to clench your jaw or grind your teeth at night? Yup, that can lead to tension headaches. Or maybe you ‘hold your stress’ in your shoulders. Bingo, that can trigger a tension headache. And sitting at a desk leaning into a computer all day? Well, I think you know where we’re going with this. 

For many of these aching heads, massage therapy is an effective treatment for tension headaches. And it’s not just about coming to see me at the office, there are plenty of self-help massage techniques you can handle on your own.

How Do I Know If I Have a Tension Headache?

Well, you might not be able to accurately diagnose a tension headache. “Tension headache” is a bit of a catchall phrase for any non-threatening and unexplained headache, but we know that many headaches are caused by tension in the body. 

Tension or tightness in your muscles or connective tissues can cause pain and discomfort that is different from the neurological pain of other headaches like migraines. Because of how muscles are interconnected, you can have tension  within a muscle that causes pain elsewhere in the body.

In massage therapy, we call these knots trigger points. You can have a trigger point in your neck, face, or shoulders and experience “referral pain” in your head as a tension headache. 

How Can I Relieve Tension Headaches?

When your head hurts, your instinct might be to soothe it, but there’s a good chance that it’s not your head that needs attention. If we understand that many tension headaches originate from trigger points in other body parts, we can treat our headaches at the true source of the problem. 

Many people find headache relief by massaging common trigger points in their jaw, neck, and shoulders. Massage manipulates and loosens tight soft tissues in the body, allowing them to relax and relieve any uncomfortable tension. 

Self-massage is an easy, all-natural method that can relieve a tension headache without any specialized training or tools. Some people with chronic headaches, however, may benefit more from professional massages. 

How Do I Give Myself a Massage for Headaches?

The next time you suffer a tension headache, try self-massage to alleviate the pain. I’ll walk you through the steps here, and with some practice, you may find this is your new favorite technique for headache relief! Feel around your shoulders with fingers and thumbs looking for sensitive or aching spots in your muscle tissue. This can take some practice, but just do your best until you get the hang of it. 

When you find a sore spot, either press and hold or gently knead the spot with circular motions or strokes for 10-100 seconds until you feel the spot kind of “release.” Start gently, and then gradually increase pressure. You don’t want to hurt yourself! 

If you’re not finding trigger points in your shoulders, try your temples, jaw muscles, or the muscles just below the back of your skull. 

Massaging trigger points like this loosens them up and should relieve that painful tension. I assure you, anyone can do this. If you are struggling, practice two to three times a day until you start seeing results. If you still aren’t getting the hang of it and continue to experience tension headaches, consider seeing a professional massage therapist to provide some relief and tips for self-massage. 

While we massage therapists are still exploring the use and efficacy of trigger point massage for tension headaches, many people find the results are worth paying a professional. And even if massage does not help your headaches, you may find that the soothing experience of a massage is a nice tradeoff while you seek other headache relief.

Crystal Pavis

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