Wednesday, May 6, 2009

5 Ways to Self-Treat your Tension Headache

It seems that you either suffer from tension headaches, or you don’t. Some of you will have no use for this article, as you aren’t bothered with headaches. If you are one of those people, please share this article with a friend or co-worker who does experience headaches, and then take the three minutes it would take to read the rest of the article and do some squats!

There is no conclusive cause of tension headaches, but it seems to have a relation to muscle tension and trigger points within the muscles of the neck, shoulders and jaw.

Repetitive strain, overuse or muscle guarding and clenching can all cause muscles to fatigue and tighten, reducing blood supply and leading to a buildup of metabolic toxins. This can lead to pain, and trigger point formation, shooting pain in and around the head.

So what do you do when a headache hits?

Here are 5 ideas you can try to reduce or eliminate that nasty tension headache, so that you can get on with your day!

1. Mini Break

If your headache hits when you are working at something for a period of time (computer, reading, knitting, dealing with a crying baby, etc), take a break from the activity for a few minutes. Get up, mobilize your neck, head and shoulders, and move your body to get some blood flowing (go grab yourself some water, take a quick walk, or do two of your favorite yoga poses). Close your eyes and let them rest for a few minutes. Dim the lights if possible during your mini break. These are just a few ideas of what to do on a mini break. Some of these might not be options if you are working in a busy office, but do what you can.

2. Stretch

A common headache culprit is the upper trapezius muscle, which is the big bulk of muscle between your shoulder and your neck. Trigger points in this muscle will often shoot up the back of your head and sit behind the eye. An easy way to stretch this muscle is to drop your ear to shoulder. (If your headache is more on the right side, drop left ear to left shoulder – this will stretch out the right upper trapezius, and vice versa).

Drop your chin down to chest, and use your hands on the back of your head to apply gentle pressure, increasing the stretch. Open your mouth wide a few times to stretch out the jaw muscles (many people clench their jaw muscles when concentrating or tense).

3. Massage

Using your fingertips, work in a circular motion over the upper trapezius area, back of the neck, base of the skull, jaws and temples. If your fingers get tired, use your knuckles. An eraser can be very effective to work the muscles in the jaw and base of the skull. Place the tip of a Pink Pearl eraser at the groove just under the back of your skull (slightly to the left or right of centre), and move it back and forth, up and down. This will work the attachments of many muscles that refer pain into the head.

Massage your scalp, as if shampooing your hair. Hair pulling can also help release the fascia of the scalp. Just grab small sections of your hair and give a gentle but firm pull. You can even add a little twist to it!

4. Hydrotherapy

A cool compress to the forehead can be very soothing, especially if you add a few drops of peppermint essential oil to the cloth.

A heating pad or Warm Buddy hot pack to the shoulders and neck can help relax muscle tension, and can be combined with the cool compress to the forehead.

A warm bath, especially if you can dim the lights, and add some essential oils (see #5) might be just what you need to rid yourself of a headache – give it a try!

5. Aromatherapy

Some of the most popular aromatherapy oils for headaches are lavender, sandalwood, peppermint, eucalyptus and rosemary.

Remember to mix your essential oils in a carrier oil (you can even use olive oil!) Use 8 to 10 drops of essential oil to 20 ml carrier oil.

You can use a combination of essential oils, or just one.

Massage oil directly onto your temples, shoulders, or neck, add them to your bath, place a few drops of essential oil onto a tissue and place it under your pillow, by your computer, in your car, or shirt pocket (no need to mix it with a carrier oil for this).