by David Onne | Massage Therapist at Psoas Massage + Bodywork
Headaches; most everyone has had one (and if you haven't, count your blessings). Headaches can be painfully debilitating and difficult to get rid of them. Painkillers sometime relieve them temporarily, but headaches keep coming back. Pain is like a fire alarm, a warning that part of your body needs attention. Even though pain is almost universally an experience to be avoided, it is actually a great feature of the body.
Headaches in particular are a sign that the brain needs more oxygen. Taking painkillers is like pushing a snooze button on the pain alarm. In order to decrease the intensity and frequency of headaches, blood flow to the brain needs to be increased. The way we do it is to release the tension of chronically contracted muscles that constrict the blood vessels that feed the brain, most of which lie in the neck. Enter massage.
The Importance of Regular Massage
As a matter of bodily maintenance, visits to the dentist are scheduled once or twice a year. As such, your muscles need to be taken care of similarly, and massage therapy specializes in soft tissue and muscle relaxation. However, since muscles are more complex, used longer, more frequently and intensely, it is recommended you visit a massage therapist more often than the dentist.
Self-Massage for Headaches
Self-massage is also a great complement to regular massage therapy from a professional practitioner. Growing up, I suffered from headaches often, but luckily for me, my father has been practicing massage since 1970. My dad taught me how to decrease the pain during an acute headache attack, as well as how to maintain my body to prevent them in the first place. Using massage and stretching on a daily basis helps keep the neck loose and open which increases blood flow to the brain thereby preventing headaches.
For Best Results:
- Use your fingertips or knuckles to rub your temples in a circular motion.
- Continue down the side of your head just in front of your ears and down along your jawline.
- Similarly, using your fingertips, rub your forehead in circles moving up your scalp and around the entire surface of your head, paying special attention to any sore spots or tender bumps or cords, rubbing back and forth over them.
- Next, focus on your eyebrows by starting on the side of your nose, and pressing on your eyebrow along the line to the ridge of your eye socket.
- Work your way outward, placing pressure on any tender points, then pinch and pull the skin and muscle away from the bone, again starting near your midline and working outward.
- Next, put pressure on either side of your nose near where the apexes of your eyes meet.
- Work your way down, rubbing and pressing on tender points down the sides of your nose and sweep outward underneath your eye, to the bulge of your cheeks and down the sides of your jaw.
- When you are done, stretch your mouth as far as you can.
Heat is also key. The neck is the pathway to the head and everything that comes or goes to the head passes through it. Applying heat to the neck dilates the arteries that supply the brain, as well as the muscles that constrict them. Heating muscles helps bring necessary nutrients and energy that helps them relax and loosen, making them more flexible and pliable. A great way to apply moist heat to your neck is with a microwavable rice or flax seed pack. While muscles are hot, they are more receptive to change.
Combining moist heat with stretching and massage will help the tension melt away and the pressure the neck muscles place on the blood vessels going to the brain will lessen. You can find some stretches that help with headaches on the Psoas Stretching Guide:
- Lateral Neck (#1)
- Upper Trapezius (#2)
- Scalenes (#4)
- Sternocleidomastoid (#5)
- Suboccipitals (#7)
- Erectors (#19)
- Jaw (#48)
Depending on how you use your body, and how often and consistently you complete a self-care routine, professional massage once or twice a month would be a great way to maintain a headache-free and pain-free body. Massage is now covered by many health care and insurance plans, and qualifies for health flex spending account (FSA) use.