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Massage Therapy for Tension Headaches

Thousands of people have stress in their lives that manifests itself through headaches. Many people deal with these headaches with pain relievers; some hit the gym to manage the pain; some even try to sleep them off. But what are tension headaches?

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. People who experience them often describe the feeling as a tightness or even a burning sensation, as if their head is being squeezed. The pain is usually around the eyes, temples, eyebrows, and at the base of the skull. They can be accompanied by sensitivity to light and/or sound, and aggravated by computer monitors, fluorescent lighting, and driving. It is important to note, however, that tension headaches are rarely accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or vision changes - if you have intense pain along with any of these symptoms, this is generally considered a migraine, although it's a good idea to consult with a physician to determine the difference. Massage can be beneficial for treating migraines, but can also trigger them, so be sure to communicate clearly with your therapist before beginning treatment.

The specific science of what is happening within the body to cause tension headaches is thought to be from sustained contractions of the muscles attaching to the skull and upper cervical vertebrae. Meaning, when we spend hours with very little movement of the head and neck (such as working on a computer, looking down at our phones, frequently flying, or even watching TV for extended periods), the muscles are required to maintain this contraction to hold the head in place. This sustained contraction results in a reduced blood flow to parts of the muscles, also known as ischemia. Think of squeezing a wet sponge - after you squeeze the sponge tight for a long length of time and release, you'll see that some parts are dried out, and some are still damp. Imagine those dry parts as ischemic muscle fibers, the blood flow squeezed out of the area. When ischemia occurs, it creates small tender points, which are commonly known as Trigger Points. Trigger Points are tough to get rid of once they've been created. Those areas have been deprived of nutrients and thorough blood flow. Massage Therapy is ideal for these areas, especially the targeted modality known as Trigger Point Therapy.

If you've been diagnosed with chronic tension headaches and continue to search for relief, a targeted massage or Trigger Point Therapy treatment plan is a great option. Studies have proved that as little as 2, 30-minute sessions per week for one month, produces results that can last as long as six months. Trigger Point Therapy includes assisted stretching and active contracting techniques to help "reactivate" the muscles, in addition to sustained, deep pressure on the affected muscles. These techniques command the nervous system to send new signals to the affected area, as well as prompt an increase in blood flow, so it can begin to work properly again. Treatment can be uncomfortable, but it can work well - especially if you have regular visits, keep up with recommended stretches, and remember to keeping those muscles moving.

Do you get tension headaches? If so, what works for you to manage the pain? If you're current treatments aren't managing the pain well, please give me a call to schedule an appointment.

Jennifer Davis, LMT, LE, sees clients at the LifeQual Center for Healing on Mondays, Tuesdays, and some Saturdays. Please call 503.679.5327 to schedule an appointment.

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