Ask the therapist: common causes and solutions of headaches and migraine
- Sunday, 05 March 2023
Tension headaches and migraines are one of the most treated conditions at Fulham Massage & Wellness. Our team of experts rushed to explain to you what the possible causes of headaches are and what can be done to ease them and even prevent them from re-occurring too often.
Liam: Cervical, or neck tension is often one of the most common causes of headaches. Often this is caused by poor posture and stress, and therefore, is frequent in people with jobs that involve sitting for prolonged hours. Other factors that can play a strong part in causing headaches are lack of sleep, eye strains, dehydration, and exertion. Also, hormones can contribute to headaches, especially in young women. Hydration and rest may be a given as ways to relieve. Wearing your glasses as prescribed can help too!
Neck stretches to take the tension out of the sub-occipital muscles (muscles that attach to the very base of the skull) can be employed throughout the day, and correction of posture is essential for keeping them away.
Of course, massage is known as a great way to relieve tension in muscles and the nervous system, but other manual therapies such as Dry needling or Acupuncture are also popular. In cases affected by hormones, a GP can advise if medication is needed.
Javier: Headaches are a common issue that we all had to deal with at least once in our life. Although the reasons why they occur vary, a good start is to understand that there are a few types of headaches: migraine, tension-type headaches, or cluster headaches. As a therapist, I always treat it individually to find the most suitable way to approach each case.
Some headaches have a physiological component within the individual, such as Clusters or Migraines. Therefore, massage therapy can help deal with the symptoms, but not cure their origins. Some other types, such as Cervicogenic Headaches or Stress headaches, can be highly diminished or resolved with hands-on treatment.
What type of treatment is the best for you? This will vary on the specific case and what’s causing your headache, however, most approaches will be effective by working on the areas of tension that directly affect the headache, such as the Trapezius or the Sternocleidomastoid muscles (neck and shoulder muscles). Moreover, the Cervical region (neck spinal region) can be treated as many tight muscles pull on the joints of the cervical spine. For that reason, freeing this area tends to have a great response. Furthermore, sometimes, a relaxing massage with a holistic approach is the best option. Thanks to this treatment, you allow your body and nervous system to switch off, which is highly needed for your brain and body when suffering from Stress Headaches.
What can you do at home?
For some types of headaches, such as migraines or stress/emotional headaches, the exercise of Meditation and Mindfulness has been proven to help relieve the symptoms and other types of chronic pain.
Another factor to consider is lifestyle changes such as exercise and diet.
Bear in mind that drug overuse can cause headaches or increase headache frequency.
Asad: Headaches can be such a disruption in our daily life and can sometimes slow us down or even prevent us from doing what we normally do. And for some of us, it may even be that we experience them more than we should and simply accept it as part of our daily routine – well, we shouldn’t! Let’s kill that mindset, stop and think about what we need to alternate or adapt so we can be more efficient throughout our day.
Let’s start off with some of the causes and then solutions as to how we can adapt these:
Sleep – Ideally, we want to aim to have good quality sleep which helps us to shut down and rejuvenate once we wake up so we can feel fresh and ready to start the day. On average we should be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep in order to reduce the chances of headaches, obesity, mental health issues, cardiovascular health, etc. (Hirshkowitze et al., 2015).
Hydration – Water is a key nutrient for our bodies to function. Too little and we can risk ourselves being dehydrated. As an individual who has a moderate amount of daily activity, we want to aim for 2-3 litres a day. This can increase depending on the activity level, but whatever the considerations, hydration reduces headaches (Arca & Singh, 2021).
Diet – What we eat reflects a lot of things about how we behave and go about our daily lives. We need to be able to function, move and think effectively, so the right fuels can always help and keep us away from experiencing headaches, pains, and feeling sluggish.
Screen time – Most of our day is pretty much spent in front of screens, especially if we have to sit at a desk or use our phones for work or leisure. This not only contributes to posture but strains our eyes which can then give us a sore head. Take those breaks from the screen if you want to work more efficiently and prevent headaches.
Stress – One of the biggest issues we face whilst living in London is stress. This usually comes from our jobs, moving houses or renovations, family, or any other issues. Stress can have severe effects on our mental health and can contribute significantly to headaches or migraines that last for hours or might even become chronic issues.
Menstrual cycle – female hormones fluctuate significantly throughout their menstrual cycle, having various effects on them physically and mentally. There are various symptoms that differ between everyone and one of them is headaches. If you suffer from headaches, consider the phase you may be in, as studies have suggested that migraines or headaches are dependent on the phase of the cycle. Knowing this may help you to manage it and prevent/reduce the headache from occurring (Curiel-Montero et al., 2021)
Posture – Neck feeling stiff? Rounded shoulders? Forward head? Feeling that these horrible knots set roots in the muscles between your shoulder blades? Well, that’s very often the cause of those painful headaches. Sometimes we need to assess our posture and see what we can do to improve it. The majority of people have those rounded shoulders and curved back from all prolonged sitting. Sometimes all it takes is a little tweak, like strengthening our back muscles, chest flexibility, and neck stretches to relieve the tension from all those attachments points at the back of our skull to reduce headaches (Elizabeth-Garcia et al., 2020)
Other causes which can sometimes contribute to headaches are previous or recent injury, side effects from medication, an imbalance between diet and activity levels, or even a sudden change in our normal daily routine.
How can massage help? During a massage for headaches, we take a holistic perspective and work at the root and surrounding tissues. We may start with relaxing the upper neck muscles, provide a gentle relaxation or movement of the scalp and begin to work down the traps, shoulders, or even as far down towards the lower body. It’s all about relaxing those tense, overworked muscles pulling your skull down and creating painful headaches. Massages can help to loosen muscle fibres, break down areas of tension, and create space between muscles, allowing movement between the joints and getting the blood moving again which enables new nutrients and oxygen to reach those wanted areas.
We may even find knots that have built up and need trigger point therapy to reduce painful and irritating hotspots. Whatever the cause of your headaches we can help identify them and guide you towards a correct treatment plan to make you feel better.
Fran: I think this is now one of the most common complaints that clients present within the clinic nowadays. Headaches can be detrimental to our health affecting most aspects of our day-to-day life. Generally, the most common causes of headaches are:
- Muscles tension – Tightness in the neck / Shoulder/head muscles can cause headaches. Our main shoulder and neck muscles attach at the base of the skull, so if these are tight then they can pull causing inflammation/dysfunction and knots to form, which can in turn lead to headaches.
- Stress – a lot of our build-up of stress ends up in our shoulders and neck muscles. Also, stress can cause toxins to build up in our body leading to headaches.
- Posture – if we are constantly looking down at our phones/laptops. If you think about how heavy our heads are (5kg!), even a slight tilt forward can put a lot of strain on our neck and shoulder muscles causing them to become tight and overworked.
- Dehydration – a lot of headaches can be linked to not drinking enough water.
- Lack of sleep
- Jaw – Grinding our teeth or clenching our jaw
Massage can really help relieve headaches and stop them from occurring. We work by releasing the tension built up in the shoulder and neck muscles. Also working into the head, jaw, and face muscles can instantly bring clients a lot of relief. There are also things we can do at home to help. Make sure we have a good posture and a good desk set-up, so we aren’t looking down. Phones/computers should be at eye height. Stretching can also help and using our famous massage ball to keep the shoulder muscles loose. If the headaches are stress-related, then finding ways to manage this such as meditation or yoga can be really effective.
Lore: As the name says, Remedial Massage, is the remedy that many seek out and find effective against headaches and migraines. Massage therapy can help relieve muscle spasms, it can improve blood flow and circulation, relieve tension, and promote relaxation.
Really good results can be achieved by pinpointing specific areas of tension that are commonly the source of headaches. For example, by working in the neck and shoulder regions, we can help relax tight bands of tissue; by loosening the sub-occipitals (the muscles attached to the base of the skull), we can ease the pain and tension that travels up through the back of the head and into the eye areas.
It has been shown that massage treatment can be helpful in bringing relief for both tension and vascular headaches. We also need to consider how hormonal chemical changes often trigger migraines. Cortisol, commonly known as the stress hormone, can be controlled by massage therapy, which will also increase endorphin production by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
All our massage therapists are experienced in treating headaches so if you would like more information as how we can help you or book a treatment, please call us on 02037949760 or head to our website: https://www.fulham-massage.com/booking-online. We will be delighted to assist you!