As a massage therapist, I hear a lot of clients complaining about headaches.
A starting point is determining the type of headache you’re experiencing. These types include:
- Rebound– usually caused by an overuse of over the counter pain killers (ie: Advil or Motrin). The use of too much medication causes the brain to shift into an excited state triggering a headache or the symptoms of withdrawal as the level of medication drops in your bloodstream.
- Sinus– inflamed sinuses due to an infection or the common cold. Treated with antihistamines or antibiotics, a Neti pot or humidity could also be an alternative.
- Cluster– excruciating pain on one side of the head with watery eyes, nasal congestion, a runny nose and restlessness. The cause is unknown and more common in men.
- Tension– this is the most common; with constant pressure in the temples, neck and back of the head. It is usually a response to stress.
- Migraine– criteria to distinguish between a migraine versus other headaches
- Client has had 5 previous headaches
- Runs in the family
- Lasts 4-72 hours
- Moderate to severe pain
- Throbbing pain
- One sided
- Interferes with activity
- May have nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to lights or sound
- May be associated with an aura (ie: flashing bright stars, ribbon lines, etc.)
There are non-pharmaceutical remedies you could try to help alleviate headaches. This includes warm baths, cold compresses to the back of the neck, stretching the neck and shoulders, staying hydrated, learning more about how taking a Pilates class could help or seeking treatment from a chiropractor or massage therapist. Pilates is amazing at getting rid of old habits and postures which often are the cause of headaches. Chiropractic will help realign your musculoskeletal structure and massage therapy will be beneficial to release pressure from tension or trigger points built up throughout the back, shoulders, neck and head.
Essential oils have also been found to be beneficial in relieving/alleviating headaches such as:
- Peppermint- offers a cooling effect and stimulates blood flow to the head helping to stop muscle contractions. It can be massaged into the back of the neck, temples and wrists.
- Lavender– has both therapeutic and curative properties. It induces relaxation, reduces stress and tension and contains a calming agent. It can be massaged into temples, back of the neck, forehead, or a few drops into a warm bath.
- Eucalyptus- cleanses the body of toxins and harmful microorganisms. It opens up the nasal airways helping to eliminate sinus pressure. It can be massaged into the temples, forehead, top of the nose, wrists and chest.
- Rosemary- stimulating anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, it creates a calming effect that improves personal orientation and alertness reducing both stress and emotional triggers. It can be massaged into the back of the neck, forehead and temples, or added into a smoothie or soup.
In addition to these strategies, a great approach is to keep a journal of your headaches to see if there is a pattern and communicate this to your massage therapist or chiropractor. In doing this it will help narrow down what your triggers are and how to avoid them.
-Courtney Spithakis, RMT