Chronic Tension-Type Headaches

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Headaches are a real pain!

Tension-type headaches are the most prevalent among adults. The impact on quality of life is significant with affect on emotions, mood, work efficiency, social aspects and pain tolerance to mention a few. Remedial massage helps reduce pain and tension in the body more or less by improving blood flow to the area, kneading stuck dense muscle tissue, reducing mental stress, and relaxing the muscles by calming the nervous system. Many different techniques are utilised by a skilled remedial massage therapist to gain a good result. I was excited to find evidence on the benefits of remedial massage in helping to reduce tension-type headaches. Whilst clinical evidence has shown this to be true, it’s always good to see some scientific research to back it up.

The evidence on remedial massage and chronic tension-type headaches

Meta-analysis – collating the randomised controlled trials

A recent meta-analysis examined the effects of remedial massage for the relief of chronic tension-type headaches. See study here.  The results showed that remedial massage was beneficial for the relief of tension-type headaches. The research further acknowledged the complexity of the condition highlighting the need for a broad approach to treatment.

Case series – individuals experiencing

A case series utilised remedial techniques such as myofascial, trigger point therapy and neuromuscular massage. See study here. The treatments used a combination of these techniques which either included or didn’t include massage of the muscles in the front of the neck, the head and jaw. What’s interesting is that both treatment combinations showed positive results for reducing the intensity and severity of chronic tension-type headaches! However, by incorporating the muscles as mentioned provided even greater relief for the patients in this study.

How do I know if it’s a tension headache?

Tension headaches are debilitating and range from symptoms such as dull non-pulsating ache across the forehead, back of head or sides of the head. The tension is bilateral and may include the jaw, shoulders and upper back. The term ‘chronic’ ranges from 1 – 14 days in the month over the course of 3 months in the year. A chronic tension headache is not associated with nausea, vomiting or aggravated by physical activity or bright lights – the hall marks of a migraine headache.

What factors make tension headaches worse?

There are many influencing factors that can make your tension headache worse such as: mental stress, sleep problems, hormonal fluctuations or imbalances, postural tension, and a forward head tilting posture. A naturopath can identify and provide a treatment plan to help ameliorate any exacerbating factors. For symptomatic relief, remedial massage is definitely the way to go, crucially important to get that relief quick smart, but addressing any underlying causes will help chronic nature of the headache! This is working on the holistic level.

Tips to help reduce chronic tension-type headaches

Remedial massage

Having a 45 minute massage focusing on the upper back, neck, shoulders, jaw and head.

Sleep

Make sure you allow adequate sleep every night for you to rest and recover. Read our recent blogs: Sleep the fundamental lifestyle factor AND Tips to sleep soundly

Screen time

Ensure you exercise your eyes regularly if you happen to sit at a computer all day. This means getting up from your desk/ computer and going out for a walk, some fresh air and look far into the distance. Try to find times during the day where you can reduce the screen time and literally take time out.

Electromagnetic fields

This evidence is emerging and quickly becoming a hot topic globally! The way I look at it is to ‘hedge your bets’ while we wait! I recommend switching off your modems every night; switch the phone to flight-mode; and get out into nature as often as you can! A swim in the ocean, or run through the bush will help to negate the electromagnetic overdose that we all get!

Water

Ensure you are well hydrated! It’s quite easy to forget to drink enough water especially during the cooler months. Aim for 2 litres per day, and drink at least 1 litre before lunch time. If you want to find out your true hydration status, book in for a VLA bioimpedance body composition test

Cold wheat pack

Apply a cool compress or cold wheat pack to the back of the head (at the nape of the neck) or on the forehead. This will help to shunt the inflammatory markers by constricting the blood vessels in the local area.

Stress management

This is such a broad health concern, and commonly underrated. We all need a little stress in our lives, but too much can cause a multitude of health impacts including tension headaches. Ways to reduce stress are mindfulness activities, taking an Epsom salt aromatherapy bath, massage or reflexology treatment, meditation, having fun hobby, taking an afternoon nap, sipping on chamomile tea (this happens to be my favourite herbal tea.. but there are many other stress management herbal teas) to name a few things.

Find the cause of your headache

If you’ve been suffering for many years it may be time to see a naturopath to really pinpoint the causes and help you by tailoring a treatment plan. A naturopathic plan is tailored and includes the four pillars of health management – dietary, lifestyle, nutritional and herbal medicine. While you are working on the cause it’s probably a good idea to get in some massages to improve your symptoms.

Self administered trigger point therapy

I often find that clients have a really tight masseter muscle (that’s the jaw muscle). This may be due to grinding or clenching teeth. Using the thumb and forefinger you can ‘trigger’ the area to help relieve the local tension in the muscle. This helps to ‘switch off’ the muscle enabling it to relax. It may also prevent the act of clenching or grinding too – particularly if this is something you may do during your sleep.

Use essential oils as a part of your holistic health management

Applying a single drop of Roman chamomile, Peppermint or Lavender essential oil on your temples may help to reduce the tension headache. Another way is to add a few drops to a cool compress and apply to your forehead. Find out more about aromatherapy and essential oils here. 

How often should I get a massage if I have chronic tension headaches?

This really depends on the main causes, and exacerbating factors. However, within the case series study (above) the massage treatments included 6 x 45-minute treatments of the upper back, shoulder, head, neck region over the course of 2 weeks and the patients symptom’s improved. At Integrated Holistic Health Practice, the way we work is to treat each client individually and work out a treatment plan most suited. Our experienced remedial massage therapists will work out the best treatment plan for you.

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