Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Self Massage for Tension Headaches

There is nothing worse than trying to get through your work day with pain at the base of the skull, shooting up the back of your head and maybe even behind your eye. This is a text book referral pattern for an upper trapezius trigger point, and is the most common type of headache I treat every day.

So lets discuss how you deal with this and get on with your day! The first thing you should do, if at all possible, it to take a quick break from whatever it is you are doing. Take a couple of deep breaths, and mobilize your head and neck (turn your head side to side, ear to shoulder, and front and back.) Repeat this a few times, and always stay in pain free range – ie – if it hurts, make your movements smaller, or stop.

Next, you need to massage the area – in the case of an upper trapezius trigger point, you want to kneed the bulk of muscle between the neck and shoulder – you might even feel the headache intensify briefly while you work this area, that’s OK – it means you are on the right spot! You want to apply just enough pressure to feel slight discomfort (it kind of hurts and feels good all at the same time), but not so much that you are cringing in pain. You can pinch the muscle between your thumb and fingers and roll it, or use flat fingers and apply direct pressure, or a rubbing motion.

Follow the muscle from the shoulder area all the way up the back of the neck to the base of the skull. You want to work between the spinous processes at the very back of the neck (you can feel the bumps they make) and the transverse processes at the sides (in line with the ears). Be sure not to apply direct pressure over these areas, but work in between them.

Because the upper trapezius attatches to the base of the skull, it is important to work this area as well. You can use your fingers along the ridge, working back and forth and up and down in small “frictioning” movements, or you can also use an eraser to help if your fingers get tired. Again, be sure to use moderate pressure.

After massaging the area, it is important to stretch the muscle out. If you want to stretch the right upper trapezius muscle, you need to sit nice and tall, looking straight ahead, and bend your neck to the left, dropping your left ear to left shoulder. You should feel a gentle pulling sensation along the right side of your neck and shoulder. Hold here, taking a couple of deep breaths. If you don’t feel anything, you can use your left hand on your head to gently guide the stretch further.

Heat can also be applied to the muscles, either before you start your self-massage, or in lieu of massage, and in conjunction with the stretch just described.

This should be enough to alleviate the average tension headache. If your symptoms do not improve, it might be time to seek some professional help!

I hope this helps you with your tension headaches!

Important Note:

The above information is for tension headache, and may not be appropriate for cluster, migraine or other types of headaches. If your headache symptoms seem unusual or more severe than normal, please contact your M.D.

Do you want to use this article on your website, blog or e-zine? You can, as long as you include this blurb with it: “Denise Mackinnon is a registered massage therapist and health and wellness advocate. You can learn more by going to

The material in this article is intended for information purposes only and should not be used in place of consultation with your medical doctor or other health care professional. Denise Mackinnon RMT is not responsible for errors, omissions, or inconsistencies with respect ot the information contained in this article and does not accept any liability whatsoever for reliance by the reader on the information contained herein.

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