Can Massage Help with Tension Headaches?

A clamp. A vise. A tight rubber band stretched firmly around your skull. Whatever your tension headache feels like, it’s no picnic. Whether yours is brought on by a single stressful event (summer with all the kids and activities) or a regular, ongoing stress, chances are that you wish they wouldn’t happen in the first place. Though often dubbed “stress headaches,” many people experience them regardless of their stress level. 

Here are a few things you may not know about these nasty pains:

  • Tension headaches can be brought on by hunger, low iron levels, fatigue, anxiety, or even bad posture.

  • Some people get them for no apparent reason whatsoever.

  • Up to 80% of adults get tension headaches periodically, and 3% of adults are chronic sufferers (meaning, they experience one daily). 

  • Women are two times as likely to get tension headaches as men.

  • This is one thing you didn’t get from Mom – these types of headaches are not hereditary.

With head pain being so prevalent among us, there’s likely a whole lot of pill-popping going on, as well. While a few quick ibuprofen tablets may take the edge off of the pain, there’s a price to pay for that comfort. Frequent, ongoing ibuprofen use can lead to damage of the stomach lining. Add in the possibility of diarrhea or constipation, ulcers, nosebleeds, and hypertension, and you’re getting way more than you bargain for. What about acetaminophen (commonly known as Tylenol)? Although it is the most widely-used painkiller in the world, regular use is not without its own potential risks. In fact, frequent, heavy acetaminophen users can be responsible for digestive tract bleeding and kidney disease.  

One more tension headache useful fact you may not know: massage is a proven method of preventing and treating stress-related head pain. In an oldie-but-goodie study from 30 years ago, participants with tension headaches were treated to massage-like touch. 90% of those participants felt relief from their head pain immediately, and 70% still felt relief four hours later. Other studies have shown that in regards to tension headache pain, massage can decrease perceived pain, reduce intensity, reduce frequency, reduce duration, decrease anger status, and decrease medication usage. 

Not only that, but the effects from your massage can be surprisingly far-reaching, and can improve sleep, increase feelings of well-being, strengthen your immune system, and reduce anxiety and stress in general. Plus, they can be a successful preventative measure when received regularly.  Can your anti-inflammatory do that? 

During a massage, your massage therapist can focus on the tightened muscles around your neck, face, head, and shoulders that can tense up and lead to cranial pain, loosening and lengthening the muscles and tendons, increasing circulation and flexibility in those areas. Specifically, he or she will likely hone in on your suboccipital muscles, which are the love-to-be-massaged muscles in your neck at the base of your skull.  As always, discuss your tension headache problem with your massage therapist.  As he or she practices various massage techniques to relieve your pain and you provide feedback, you’ll eventually find exactly what works for you. As a result, you may just consider yourself a grateful and happy tension-headache-free minority. Are you ready to get rid of that tension now? Find the Elements Massage® studio nearest you.


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