Headaches: Treat The Problem, Not The Symptoms
Often during a first visit with a new client, I’ll ask about headaches. So many people seek out massage for neck and shoulder pain, but they fail to mention the headaches that normally go along with it. For them, the headaches are so frequent it seems to be the norm rather than the exception.
Headaches Are Not Normal
When your body sends out a pain signal, it is because something is not right. A headache is no different. It’s all too common for people to take some form of painkiller whether it’s over-the-counter or prescription medication. The inherent characteristic that most people seem to overlook is that pain is a symptom, and painkillers do what they say: kill the symptom. Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t address the underlying problem.
Types Of Headaches
There are many different types of headaches, each with a variety of symptoms. Here is a short list of the most common types.
Migraines – Migraine headaches occur when blood vessels in the brain become dilated. This is usually caused by a chemical reaction like food allergies or a response to stress. Migraines often start with a visual disturbance and quickly develop into severe head pain. This pain can be accompanied by other symptoms including sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. They are usually felt on one side of the head, but the pain can also be on both sides. Migraines are often managed with medication and avoiding the triggers such as certain foods (chocolate, aged cheese, red wine, nuts). However, there are bodywork techniques that are effective in easing migraines or decreasing the frequency of these headaches.
Tension Headaches – Tension headaches are related to neck pain, poor posture, and jaw problems such as TMJD. Most people describe a tension headache as one that starts at the base of the skull, and then moves in an arc over the ears and behind the eyes. These headaches are often caused or intensified by poor posture, position at work stations, and body mechanics, which creates unnecessary stress on the upper neck muscles.
Mixed Headaches – This term is often used to describe a tension headache that can elevate to a migraine. The tension headache starts first and the chemicals produced from the pain create the conditions to develop a migraine. For people that experience mixed headaches often, the best way to avoid the migraine is to treat the tension headache before it elevates to a migraine.
To prevent or greatly reduce the frequency of headaches, a treatment routine of bodywork, paying attention to body position, and stress management is highly recommended. Reducing the headaches will then reduce your dependence on medication and the avoidance of food triggers. There are many bodywork techniques, each with their own approach to treat headaches. The following is a short list of techniques that I can perform that are often effective in treating recurring headaches.
Swedish Massage – Although this is one of the most common massage techniques, it can be effective in treating headaches. By it’s name alone, a tension headache implies the presence of tension and stress. A Swedish massage promotes relaxation and relieves muscle tension. When muscles become tight due to stress or poor posture, they eventually become chronically shortened. Swedish massage teaches the body how to let go of muscle tension and resets muscle tone.
Integrative Bodywork – This does not fit neatly into any particular classification of massage. The essence of Integrative Bodywork is taking a holistic approach to health and wellness. There are a wide variety of techniques associated with Integrative Bodywork. One that I am trained in is called CORE. This technique is designed to improve posture and structural alignment. A primary cause of chronic headaches is poor posture, which produces tension in the neck and shoulders because the weight of the head is not properly balanced on top of the spine. By selectively freeing the soft tissues, this type of bodywork can literally change postural alignment and remove the stresses on the muscles that cause headaches.
Deep Tissue Therapies – A chronically tensed muscle can maintain the tension even after a stressful event has passed. Deep tissue work frees the connective tissue glue, creating a new way for the muscle to function.
Other Options – There are even more bodywork options that address headaches. Reflexology, Craniosacral Therapy, Rolfing, Hellerwork, and Structural Integration, among others, can all help relieve painful headaches.
By addressing the root of the problem, regularly scheduled bodywork sessions can greatly reduce headaches and your reliance on using medication to mask the symptoms. Remember, headaches are not normal, and no one has to live with them.
If you are ready to stop masking your headaches and address them head on, schedule your next massage today.