Massage Aha!

Professional therapeutic massage therapy in Kansas City, MO by Aaron Harris, BCTMB

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Massage for Tension Headaches


Sometimes I think massage therapy was invented specifically to treat tension headaches. These types of headaches are typically caused by muscular stress in the neck and shoulders.

Man who needs a massage because of a tension headache.
Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

What is a Tension Headache?

The muscles that are primarily responsible for supporting the head form two small triangles that attach to the base of the skull. These muscles keep the head steady by holding tension. They allow movement by contracting and relaxing. The average human head weighs between 18 and 20 pounds.

It’s not hard to understand that anything that upsets the balance of these muscles can result in near constant pain in the head.

The suboccipital muscles that can cause tension headaches.
These suboccipital muscles can be massaged, relieving a tension headache.

Often, misalignment of the spine or sacrum can cause a ripple effect throughout the body. It is not uncommon for problems in the feet or knees to be the underlying cause of tension headaches.

Tension Headache Triggers

Absolutely anything can trigger a tension headache. There is an almost infinite number of physical, emotional, and mental causes.

Some of the major triggers include:

  • Simple muscle tension in base of the skull or jaw.
    • These muscles are especially vulnerable to emotional stress. Anger or worry tends to cause people to clench their jaw and tighten their necks.
  • Injuries to the head or neck
    • Whiplash
    • Repetitive motion, such as tremors from Parkinson’s Disease.
    • Physical stress during exercise, especially swimming.
    • Ergonomic injury from poor posture or workstation design.
  • Subluxation of cervical vertebrae.
    • Misalignment of the bones in the neck can irritate surrounding tissues and nerves. Chiropractic care can resolve this.
  • Trigger points in the neck and head.
  • Eyestrain
  • Ongoing mental stress.
  • Insomnia or lack of adequate sleep.

Massage Treatment for Tension Headaches

Experienced, focused bodywork on the muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders is the best treatment for a tension headache, regardless of the underlying cause.

Deep tissue and trigger point therapy massage of the sternocleidomastoid, splenius capitus, and splenius cervicis muscles can provide instant relief.

Sternocleidomastoid (SCM)
The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) by itself rotates the face to the opposite side and lifts it towards the ceiling. Paired with the opposite side the muscles flex the head and neck.

Experienced massage therapists can assess your posture and body mechanics. We can also feel hidden sources of tension in your muscles that can often provide long-lasting relief when treated.

Since massage is a proven stress-reducer, regular appointments can improve sleep and resolve the most common causes of tension headaches.

I am often available for emergency mobile massage appointments. Treating a tension headache when it begins can shorten the duration. The best way to contact me for an emergency session is by texting my phone at (323) 283-9348.

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