At Home Care For Tension Headaches: Part 2 - At Home Treatment

In our last blog, we looked at some of the main causes and symptoms of tension headaches. In this blog, we will be looking into at home care you can provide yourself to relieve the symptoms of your tension headaches. As always, please consult with your primary care provider prior to any type of treatment.

Treatment of Tension Headache

Massage therapy is highly recommended in the event of a tension headache. Even if you are able to decrease the headache with at home treatment, there may be underlying fascial restrictions that could lead to a repeat episode. Massage therapy can help to decrease a recurrence. If this is an avenue you would like to pursue, please contact a licensed massage therapist near you.

First, if you are experiencing a tension headache, start diaphragmatic breathing to assist with getting proper oxygen flow to the area.

Pre-treat the area with heat. You can use a flax seed pillowheating pad, or soak in a warm bath. Heat can be applied for 5-15 minutes. Please be cautious about the amount of heat applied so as not to burn yourself.

Next, you need to isolate the trigger point.

Muscles of Tension Headaches and Their Main Symptoms

Trigger points generally present as a dull achy pain. If you have a sharp, shooting pain, that can be indicative of neuropathy and you should consult with your primary care physician.

Please follow these links for more detailed information on these specific muscle trigger points as well as illustrations of their locations:
  • Upper Trapezius: Pain can start along the back of the neck and then travels up the same side, around the ear, in the shape of a question mark
  • Sternocleidomastoid: Pain can start in the front of the neck and then travels behind the ear to the back of the skull. It may progress around the eye socket, into the ear canal, or across the forehead.
  • Subocciptal Muscles: Pain can start in the back and bottom of the skull, moving around the ear.
  • Occipitofrontalis: Pain can start at the back and bottom of the skull, shooting through the head to the back of the eyeball.
  • Splenius Muscles: Pain can start in the back of the neck and then travel to the top of the head or out to the temples.
  • Temporalis: Pain can start above the ear and then travel to the same side eyebrow or upper lip.
After isolating our trigger point, we will have to work at releasing it. You can use either ischemic pressure or deep pressure massage. You can also use Trigger Point Tools to help you release the muscular tension.

Releasing a Trigger Point with Ischemic Pressure

With ischemic pressure, apply direct pressure to the trigger point at a tolerable level. On a pain scale of zero to ten with zero being no pain at all, you should not go above a six on the pain scale. Applying too much pressure can actually worsen the trigger point and cause other muscles in the body to become overly tight.

After you have applied the pressure, start to breathe deeply into your stomach. Releasing the trigger point may take several minutes and you may experience referral pain during this time. Continue breathing as the contracted muscle tissue starts to relax. Keep the pressure applied until you no longer feel any pain and any potential referral pain has gone away.

Releasing a Trigger Point With Deep Pressure Massage

Make sure to use some type of massage lotion or massage oil with this technique. Working in the direction of the muscle fibers, apply pressure into the tissue about one inch before the trigger point. At a rate of one inch for every three seconds, press through the trigger point and end one inch past the end of the knotted fibers. Similar to using ischemic pressure, you do not want to go above a six out of ten on the pain scale and you may feel referred pain from the trigger point. Repeat this motion as many times as necessary until the pain and referral pain has gone away entirely.

After Having Released the Trigger Point

Be sure to stretch the muscle well to reset the fiber length. There may be some tenderness in the area after you work through a trigger point. Be sure to properly hydrate before or after releasing a trigger point to help flush away any extracellular debris.

Contemplate following up with a massage therapist who will be able to work further into your muscles to help relieve any additional myofascial restrictions which may be an underlying cause of repeat tension headaches.

If your symptoms worsen, please follow up with your primary care physician.

Corinne D. Bracko-Douglas, CMT, LMT, CKTP is the owner of Dochas Clinical Massage Therapy based out of Columbia, MO. She received her diploma in Clinical Massage Therapy from The Soma Institute in Chicago, IL in 2004. She enjoys teaching others about how to live a healthy lifestyle and still works one on one with clients out of her private clinic. When not working as a therapist she can be found enjoying trail hikes with her wonderful husband, Lee, and their adorable doggos, Shadow and Koda, or trying out fun new workouts to expand her knowledge of the human body and how it functions.

The advice given in these articles is not meant to diagnose. Please always consult with a health care provider before performing any of the techniques described upon yourself.

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