Massage Therapy and Tension Headaches

Headaches are something that many people suffer everyday. They can appear to arise out of nowhere and be short term or last many days. Many of these headaches occur from hyper-irritable spots in the muscles of the neck and shoulders. Palpation of these spots in the muscles can reproduce these headaches. In assessing the presentation, very often the muscles producing the headaches are either in a lengthened, strained position or they have been put in a shortened position. This can occur often when the neck is put in a poor position for a lengthened period of time, perhaps at work or extended periods of time at a computer. It can often occur as well, as I’ve mentioned in previous entries, when the neck is tightening to level the head when the shoulders are out of position.

Treating the symptoms is fairly standard in releasing the trigger points in the muscles that are causing the headaches and making sure there is normal movement in the joints of the neck but more emphasis is put on preventing the reoccurrence in the future. For example, if the muscles and tissues at the front of the shoulder are tight, this can cause you to slump slightly so that you will end up looking downward towards the floor, so your neck muscles will tighten to pull your head straight. It is these muscles than may end up tightening for long periods of time and can develop trigger points that may refer dull achy pain (headaches) to your head. Part of the treatment will be to reduce tightness of the front shoulder muscles, mobilize the upper back joints, if necessary, to allow your back to come out of the slumped forward position, teach a stretch to keep the joints and front chest muscles stretched but most importantly, teach postural awareness. We can mobilize and stretch and strengthen forever but the body will always want to fall back into the position which it is used to, which might be the slumped forward position. The way to encourage proper position, is to give the body a reward for making the change, which may be decreased pain or increased neck movement and shoulder movement. If the body recognizes a benefit to making the change, then it will be more likely to stay in that position.

So, most of the time, headaches can occur from neck muscles that are doing what they are supposed to do because of imbalance further down. They can be dealt with easily by good shoulder position, pliable muscles and adapting your posture and activities that can be contributing to the imbalance and tightness of the neck muscles.

Above is an example of the Trapezius muscle. A muscle that will become lengthened and weak when slumping forward, if you can imagine the shoulders rolling forward and shoulderblades moving outwards slightly.
The trigger points would be where the X’s are and the red areas are where the dull achy pain is found, so you can see how the headaches can come about from muscles in the upper back and neck. There are other muscles are well that can send headaches to other parts of your head like at the top or behind the eyes.

Once the muscles are released, the joints are functioning properly and the shoulders and upper back are rebalanced, headaches should not be an issue any further. If they do continue, and are unrelenting, it is good to visit your doctor.


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