By Katie Kelly, Registered Massage Therapist
The definition of a headache is a continuous pain in the head. The pain is caused by disturbances of the pain sensitive tissue around the brain, not of the actual brain itself.
The two most common types of headaches are migraines and tension headaches.
Migraines are caused by increased blood flow to the head and are characterized by moderate to intense pain to one side of the head, which may or may not be preceded by a visual disturbance. Migraines are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and/or sensitivity to light/sound. They can be caused by various different things such as smells, food, visual stimuli, changes in weather or hormones, or stress/anxiety.
Migraine headaches are generally treated with medication, depending on severity, as they can sometimes be debilitating. It is best to consult with your doctor or alternative medical specialist to decide the best plan of action.
Massage therapy does not treat migraine headaches, but can help with the severity and frequency as the pain and stress caused by migraines can cause added muscle tension in the body, especially around the head and neck.
Tension headaches are caused by tight muscles in the head, neck and upper back area, activating trigger points, or knots, which refer pain into the head. The cause of the muscle tension may be due to various different reasons including, stress, poor posture and unnecessary muscle tension, such as shrugging of the shoulders or shallow breathing. Tension headaches are characterized by a dull ache around the base of the skull, at sides of the head, and/or in the forehead or behind the eyes.
Tips to combating tension headaches:
- Exercise regularly: exercise helps relieve stress, relaxes muscles and increases levels of the endorphins which are the body’s natural stress relievers.
- Healthy Lifestyle: make healthy food choices, maintain a consistent sleep schedule are a good start.
- Stress Management: try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, yoga or massage therapy. Take time for yourself to enjoy the things that make you happy.
- Muscle Relaxation: Massage! Book yourself in for a massage, or learn techniques and what muscles to massage yourself to help relieve that upper back and neck pain.
- Correcting your Posture: Correcting posture will help certain muscle groups from tensing up and reduces strain on the body. When standing, your head, shoulders, hips and ankles should line-up, one comfortably above the other. Your knees should be slightly bent and your feet should be shoulder width apart.
Stretching and strengthening the appropriate muscle groups can help with correcting posture. Massage therapy can help release those tight muscles, such as the pec muscles and hip flexors; and a physiotherapist can assist with strengthening the weaker muscles, such as upper back muscles and core muscles, to help balance out the body.