How massage can help headaches

massage and headacheHeadaches are a common complaint in our society.  It seems most everyone has one occasionally and many suffer with them regularly.  Stress headaches and tension headaches are two types that occur frequently that can be relieved by massage. There are other types of headaches that are caused by other factors.  While massage is not a magic cure for everything, it can help relieve some of the pain and allow you to deal with them better.

Also, there may be a physical problem that is causing headaches.  An experienced massage therapist can feel when something is different than usual and will ask questions about it.  This sometimes will prompt a memory and a discussion of an old injury.  It can also lead to adjustments to daily activities or sleeping habits that can help solve the pain problem.

Stress headaches are called that because their main cause is – wait for it – stress.  Everybody deals with some degree of stress in life.  Some stresses are minor, but just as when you keep adding small things to a load you are carrying, it eventually becomes a heavy burden. Massage helps stress headaches in many ways.  The slow strokes are calming, allowing you to slow down both mentally and physically.

Life can get so busy at times it feels overwhelming.  When you slow down, life seems to slow down also, and you can feel more in control and not racing from task to task as much.Some people are in the situation of having to take care of another person (or persons).   Obligations from family, friends, work, and social activities can stretch us thin.  When you get a massage, you are allowing your massage therapist to take care of you.  They do all the work; you just relax and enjoy the feeling of stress leaving your body and mind.

Massage provides a comforting touch.  It’s a reminder that we are not alone in the world.  That helps us to consider the people around us and treat them with more understanding.  Life can at times be harsh and provides multiple challenges to be faced all at once.  Following a massage, problems seem smaller, more manageable, and less intimidating. Finally stress is reduced since you are taking time for yourself.  Everybody needs some time to recharge and be ready to dive in again.

Tension headaches are different from stress headaches.  The tension refers to muscle tension – that tightness you get in your neck and shoulders that makes it painful to move your head. You already know that there are muscles in your neck that connect to your back and shoulders.  Some of those muscles also attach at the base of your skull in the back.

Did you know your head and face are also covered with muscles and tendons?  When the neck muscles get tight and stiff, they pull on the back of your head.  That strains and tightens the head muscles, which gives you the headache that feels like your head is being squeezed. Those face and head muscles are important.  They allow us to have facial expressions such as smiling, frowning, raising our eyebrows in surprise, and squinting our eyes.  They permit movements so we can eat, drink, talk, kiss, and make duck faces for posting pictures online. Many people say they carry their stress in their neck and shoulders – it’s where they notice it the most and have the most discomfort.  Typically their shoulders appear hunched up and raised toward their ears.

The tension in these muscles can be caused by a few common factors.  Some people maintain the same position for long periods of time.  They drive to work, sit at their desk working on their computer, drive home, and then spend time on their phones/tablets/laptops.  The muscles need a break and to change positions at times; otherwise they begin to tighten up in the same position.  This results in some muscles remaining in a shortened state and others being stretched too far.  Massage helps to reset the muscles by relaxing them all and allowing them to return to their natural positions and functions.

Poor posture for long periods is another cause of muscle tension.  Each muscle is designed to be in a certain position and perform a movement only it can do best.  When muscles are out of position, it takes additional effort for the movement, resulting in increased tension. Massage on the face and scalp can relieve the muscle tension there.  Massage on the neck and shoulder muscles can relieve that muscle tension, as well as the tension of the muscles of the head.  You will also experience the benefits of stress relief that were discussed above.

Instead of reaching for a bottle of pain relievers or something less healthy, contact your favorite massage therapist for an appointment.  Give it a try if you haven’t tried massage yet.  If it is just a headache you want dealt with, the work will be on your head and neck, so you won’t have to take off any clothes if you prefer not to.  Even just a 30 minute session can help with reducing the stress and muscle issues that are bothering you. Your massage therapist may be able to offer a suggestion for self-care that you can do on your own between appointments. In comparison, a pill helps you feel better for a short time but doesn’t address the source of the problem – which means the headache is just lurking nearby and will be back.

A massage helps you feel better longer by addressing the real problem hands-on (ha!), allows you to sleep better, doesn’t involve adding any chemicals to your body, and may give you an idea on adjustments to make to prevent further headaches.  I always find I can think more clearly after a massage and it helps me deal with the stress in my life. Regular massage sessions can help keep the headaches away or at least under control.  Just knowing that a massage is scheduled can help you feel better since you know relief is on the way.  It can give you the freedom to be more active and enjoy the activities you want to be involved in.

Don’t let headaches stop you from living the life you want when massage can help.

Image courtesy of marin/
  • Ginger

    I like this article – I’ll be sharing it!