3 Easy Self-Massage Techniques to rid of your Tension Headaches – from a Physical Therapist - Be My Healer
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3 easy self-massage techniques to relieve your tension headaches

3 easy self massage techniques to lift tension headache

We all get tension headaches from time to time. Some tension headaches are transient, while others linger around like unpleasant house guest, driving us crazy.

Remember waking up with your eyes ready to swell out of your head? Or the pain just keep banging harder, the more you try to be productive?

Having headaches makes us incapable of thinking, focusing or simply expressing ourselves correctly.

We've all been there. And we've all popped over-the-counter pain meds like Mentos to just get by.

Most headaches are the result of muscle tensions and pressure in our cranial bones.

So, today I am going to teach you the techniques I used to rid of tension and pressure in different parts of our head and relieve headaches drug free.

A little about technique first

The self massage technique that I recommend using for these heachaches are trigger point release techniques with sustained pressure. 

Why constant pressure? Because I find it works for my patients and me the best. There are many theories regarding why and how pressure causes spasmed muscle to release. One of my favorite explanations is that the prolonged pressure gives the nerve endings in our muscle the affirmative signal to suppress muscle activation, letting the muscle relax. (Kind of like when you turn off your gadgets by holding the on/off button for 5 seconds)

What should I feel and how do I know it’s working? Initially, all you'll feel is the intensity of the tenderness. Bear with it! Somewhere between 90 sec and 2 mins, you will feel a sudden decrease in the tenderness. (YES, I KNOW). Don’t let go yet. Wait for the tenderness to decrease to 20% of its original intensity, or less, then you can take a nice deep breath, and let off your pressure. Repeat on the opposite side. If your trigger points are too tender for immediate pressure, apply a hot towel for 5 mins on the side of your head first, then try again.

Why a tennis ball? The key to releasing the tenderness is through CONSTANT pressure for 2-3 minutes. Most people’s thumbs would be shaking half-way through those times. A tennis ball is one of those rare things that have the perfect amount of give and firmness that is wonderful for massage, and one can be found in most households or be purchased easily. Viola!

How often should I repeat the technique? You should repeat this technique for 3-5 times on your first or worst day, and slowly decrease the frequency over the following three days. If you do not feel improvement with this technique within 48 hrs, please seek out other treatment for your symptoms.

Headaches on TOP and SIDE of head

This type of headache is highly prevalent in people who are recently under stress, anxiety and emotional turbulence.

The notorious problem causer is our temporalis muscle. It clenches to the side of our head like two big claws. The temporalis muscle is responsible when we chew on something crunchy and crush our molars together to break food into a thousand little pieces.

However, it also tenses our jaw up when we goes into Fight or Flight mode (even when we are dreaming). When this lasts for a while, the temporalis muscle spasms and becomes the headache we all know so well.

temporalis trigger point

How to TREAT:

  • Use your thumb, your fist or a tennis ball (based on your comfort), palpate for the tender spot in front of your ears, on the same level of your eyebrows.
  • Once you find the tender area (or trigger point), apply constant pressure for 2-3 mins.
  • Then move up towards the top of your head, one inch at a time till most of your tenderness is gone.

How to prevent this headache from coming back? STOP your STRESS! HAHAHA, just kidding! In fact, find out if you are a jaw clencher or teeth grinder. These habits may lead to overuse of the temporalis muscle too.

Headache on FRONT of your head and AROUND your EYES

This type of headache is more prevalent in people who are dealing with a cold, sinus infection or allergies. It can also be caused by too much computer work (or gaming).

It can be caused by fluid buildup in our sinuses. Or simply muscle tension from fatigued eye muscles.

How to TREAT:

eyebrow trigger point
trigger point nose bridge
cheek trigger point
  • Use your thumb or a tennis ball, palpate for the tender points
    • (1) on the inner end of your eyebrows,
    • (2) at either side of the bridge of your nose, and
    • (3) one inch below the center of your eyes and one the same level of your nostrils.
  • Once you find the tender area (or trigger point), apply constant pressure for 2-3 mins.

How often should I repeat the technique? You should repeat this technique for 3-5 times on your first or worst day, and slowly decrease the frequency over the following three days. If you work on a computer a lot or perform high volumes of reading, you should set a timer and perform these every 1-2 hours. If you do not feel improvement with this technique within 48 hrs, please seek out other treatment for your symptom.

How to Prevent: Stream your face with warm streamer (some clothes irons have streamers too), or with a hot face towel. Get better from your sinus condition. Take breaks from the computer or readings often.

Headaches on the BACK of head that shoot down your NECK

This type of headache is often related to poor posture or neck problems. There will be a lot of posts addressing neck pain and posture problems in the future.

The truth is, the neck connects to the base of your head (Wow, you don’t say! I know!) And the muscles that control this 10 lb dead weight often become exhausted, especially when we hang out in poor upper body postures.

How to TREAT:
suboccipital trigger point
  • Using the three middle fingers, or two tennis balls, palpate for the tender point at the base of the back of your head where your neck connects to the head.
  • Once you find the tender area (or trigger point), apply constant pressure for 2-3 mins till tenderness decreases or go away. 

How to prevent? Try different types of pillows to sleep better. [Recommended reading 3 clinical proven stretches to relieve neck and shoulder pain; and How to improve posture with these on-the-go exercises]

Additional Tips

  • Best time for self-massage is right after a nice long hot shower.
  • If you have loved ones at home, they can normally find more ergonomic ways to apply pressure for these massages
  • Drink plenty of water earlier in the day and to go bed 1-2 hours earlier than usual, till you feel better or forever

These are the self-massage techniques I use personally for my headache patients. I also teach them to do this for themselves. And they are all pretty happy about it.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find this post helpful.

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