The International Headache society estimates that up to 86% of women and 63% of men suffer from headaches annually. The exact cause of headaches is often unknown, but muscle tension and nerve entrapment of the neck are commonly involved. According to the World Health Organization, tension-type headache is the most common headache type, affecting 2/3 of men and more than 80% of women. Luckily, massage therapy is profoundly effective in reducing several causes of headaches.
Why Do I Have a Headache?
Numerous factors may be responsible for your headache. Basically, any type of stress will increase the chance of a headache developing. Stress may be external, such as work-related stress or emotional stress. Stress may also be internal. Some common examples of internal stressors that can lead to headaches include: pore posture, dehydration, structural asymmetry(the sides of your body are slightly different sizes), scoliosis, food allergy, B vitamin deficiency, and overuse of a muscle group.
Poor posture is one of the primary causes of headache-inducing trigger points. It is also very easy to treat!
During a headache, muscles in the head, neck, and upper back experience an “energy crisis”, because they are not receiving adequate metabolic chemicals. This is usually due to a constriction of the muscle which blocks healthy blood flow. These localized areas of reduced circulation become hypersensitive, and can refer pain in documented patterns throughout the head and neck region. These hypertonic sites are called trigger points. In tension-type headache, chronic headache, cervicogenic headache, and myofascial pain syndrome, trigger points are the primary pain-causing stimuli. When trigger points remain untreated, the chemical makeup of the muscle begins to change. Strong, durable fibers are woven into the muscle. This makes the muscle stronger, but it also decreases blood flow further. A vicious cycle of pain and local dehydration ensues.
The Headache Cure
Tension headaches are quite curable. Other headaches, such as cluster, chronic, and migraine can also be reduced in frequency, intensity, and duration by reducing the overall stress load on the headache sufferer.
The easiest and least expensive way to reduce your stress load is to drink more water! After you have drunk enough water, the next step is to make sure that it gets to where you need it to go. Unfortunately, you could consume 20 glasses of water/day and still be chronically dehydrated if muscle tension is preventing blood from reaching an inflamed area. Then you need precise intervention to soften areas of blockage and restore blood flow.
Medical massage therapy targets the hardened, over-stressed areas in the muscle that trap blood out and waste in. Massage softens these hypertonic spots, increasing blood flow. It simultaneously quiets overstimulated nerves to reduce the inflammatory response. When blood flow is restored, the inflamed area can repair and will stop sending you the warning signals that we experience as pain.
Earlier Tretament = Faster Outcome
If pain is left untreated, it creates chemical changes in the brain that perpetuate a chronic pain cycle. At this stage, the nerve pathways must be retrained through systematic treatment. Nutritional supplementation is also indicated to nourish the brain of depleted nutrients necessary for hormone production.
Associated symptoms may include muscle weakness, stiffness, and restricted range of motion.
Postural dysfunction as far away as the pelvis and feet is often a contributing factor.
Their elimination through manual therapy, exercise, and postural reeducation can reduce or completely relieve headache symptoms.
Why Massage Works/Further Benefits of Massage
Massage increases serotonin and endorphin levels, the body’s natural pain killers, in the muscle. Massage activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is often suppressed or under-functioning in headache sufferers. Massage can give the headache sufferer a sense of control over the noxious stimuli.
Headache sufferers experience sleep disturbance during the deeper stages of sleep, inhibiting cell repair. During massage, tissues repair even faster than during sleep, helping headache sufferers replace some of the lost recovery time.
A thorough treatment plan includes manual treatment of pelvic and lower limb asymmetries. Further consultation with a nutritionist and exercise rehab therapist is often the next step to full recovery.
Headache Information and Resources
World Health Organization fact sheet on headaches