Tension headaches, previously called muscle contraction headaches, are the most common type. The pain is often mild to moderate and can feel as if constant pressure is being applied. While most adults get tension headaches periodically, some are chronic sufferers, meaning they experience one daily. Its name alone indicates the role of stress (mental, physical or emotional) that triggers the pain and contracting muscles in the neck, face, scalp and jaw. They are often brought on by jaw clenching, intense work, missed meals, anxiety, fatigue, and especially poor posture. You could take a couple of ibuprofen tablets to help relieve the pain, however, there’s a price to pay. Frequent use of ibuprofen can lead to damage of the stomach lining, constipation, hypertension, and kidney disease. So why not try to address the direct cause of the symptoms? While it may be brought on by a certain stressor in your life, the pain is actually caused by a trigger point.
Trigger points are an extremely common cause of pain. They are painful when pressed on, lead to increased muscle stiffness, decreased range of motion and restricted blood flow. These points also have a special property called referred pain, which means the trigger point in one muscle can also refer pain in another area. One may develop due to an acute muscular strain (such as a car accident, fall, or excessive exercise), or chronic overload of a muscle (poor posture, or repetitive work tasks). Continual strain on the muscles cause small tears which the body tries to prevent by forcing the muscles to knot up in a sustained contraction. These knots formed by the muscle contracting may cause scar tissue to form or trap pain receptors within the fibers, and cause nutritional deficiencies due to loss of blood flow.
Studies have shown that in regards to tension headaches, massage can help reduce the perceived pain, intensity, frequency, duration and decrease medication use. Massage relieves the muscle spasms and tension by loosening tight muscles and constricted bands of tissue, while stimulating circulation. By decreasing the hyper irritable tissues, therapy can help manage the pain referrals, amount of knots and scar tissue in the muscle. Regular treatment can also help increase the feel-good endorphins while decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol to help restore the body to a balanced hormonal state resulting in improved sleep and fewer headaches.
The common muscles that cause headaches due to their trigger point referral patterns are often the upper trapezius, subocciptals, and sternocleidomastoid. The upper trapezius forms a question mark up your neck and around your eye, while the suboccpitals are responsible for creating the feeling of wearing a tight headband. The sternocleidomastoid may create the symptoms of pain behind or above your eyes, as well as jaw pain. Book an appointment with your massage therapist to help treat these trigger points and learn some stretches that will help prevent these headaches from coming back!