Most of us are familiar with the sensation of a headache. The location, cause, and severity can differ, but we all agree that headaches hurt!
When you have a headache, it’s hard to function normally until you find relief. That’s why there are so many techniques for treating headaches. Not all of these techniques are reliable, however. Some only work for certain types of headaches, others are more myth or anecdotal than medical fact.
Tension headaches are one of the most common types of headaches and are experienced by almost half of all people. That’s a lot of head pain.
Do you tend to clench your jaw or grind your teeth at night? Yep, that can lead to tension headaches. Or maybe you ‘hold your stress’ in your shoulders. Bingo, that can trigger a tension headache. And sitting at a desk, typing at the computer all day? Well, I think you know where we’re going with this.
For many of these causes, Thai Bodywork is an effective treatment for tension headaches. And it’s not just about coming to see me at the studio. There are plenty of self-massage techniques you can use at home.
How Do I Know If I Have a Tension Headache?
Tension or tightness in your muscles or connective tissues can cause pain and discomfort that is different from the neurological pain of other headaches like migraines. Because of how muscles are interconnected, you can have tension within a muscle that causes pain elsewhere in the body. In bodywork and massage therapy, we call these trigger points. You can have a trigger point in your neck, face, or shoulders and experience “referral pain” in your head as a tension headache.
How Can I Relieve Tension Headaches?
When your head hurts, your instinct might be to soothe it (have you ever rubbed your forehead or temples when you have a headache?), but there’s a good chance that it’s not your head that needs attention. If we understand that many tension headaches originate from trigger points in other body parts, we can treat our headaches at the true source of the problem.
Many people find headache relief by massaging common trigger points in their jaw, neck, and shoulders. Bodywork and massage manipulate and loosen tight soft tissues in the body, allowing them to relax and relieve any uncomfortable tension.
Self-massage is an easy, all-natural method that can relieve a tension headache without any specialised training or tools. Some people with chronic headaches, however, may benefit from professional bodywork sessions.
When clients some to see me for help relieving headaches, I use warm herbal compresses and massage to soften the muscles around the neck, head and upper back. I also offer each client several deep inhales from a traditional Thai herbal inhaler (Ya Dom) that I make, which is great for clearing sinus headaches. The session often ends with a warm herbal compress tucked each side of the neck – imagine feeling your head and neck feeling rested and support by a warm fragrant pillow.
How Do I Give Myself a Massage for Headaches?
The next time you suffer a tension headache, try self-massage to alleviate the pain. I’ll walk you through a couple of options here, and with some practice, you may find these are your new favourite techniques for headache relief!
Don’t be alarmed if self-massage feels slightly uncomfortable at times. That means you’re finding some tight spots in the muscles and soft tissues that you can work with.
Technique #1 (my personal favourite)
If you have a foam roller or cork/foam yoga brick at home, you can use this to massage the muscles at the base of the skull (just under the occipital for any anatomy geeks). Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor about hip width apart. Place the brick or foam roller just under the ridge of your skull where it meets your neck. Roll your head very slowly from side to side. Hold each side of the foam roller if you feel it sliding.
If you find any tight spots, you can pause, focus on your breath, and give the muscles time to soften. If the tension is too intense, continue rolling your head slowly and gently side to side.
This video shows you the technique using a foam roller. If you’re using a foam/cork brick (don’t use a wooden one for this!) then place the brick with the long side edge just below the base of your skull and follow the same instructions.
Gently feel around your shoulders with fingers and thumbs looking for sensitive or aching spots in your muscle tissue. This can take some practice, but just do your best until you get the hang of it. Be assured that you can’t really go wrong with this. Try to trust that you know what’s best for your own body.
When you find a sore spot, either press and hold or gently knead the spot with circular motions or strokes for 10-100 seconds until you feel the spot kind of “release”. Start gently, and then gradually increase pressure. Be kind to yourself! If you’ve had a Thai Bodywork session with me before, you know I don’t believe in the “no pain, no gain” approach. The best way to release deeply held tension is slowly and gently. If you’re not finding trigger points in your shoulders, try your temples or jaw muscles.
Can anyone do self-massage?
Massaging trigger points like this loosens them up and should relieve that painful tension. I assure you; anyone can do this. If you are struggling, practice for a few minutes every day until you start feeling results. If you still aren’t getting the hang of it and continue to experience tension headaches, consider seeing a professional bodywork practitioner to provide some relief and ask for self-massage tips.
I am always happy to show clients self-massage techniques at the start of a session (clients are usually too relaxed at the end to take anything in), so please don’t be shy to ask. There are lots of self-massage and stretching techniques that don’t require any equipment.
How can Thai Bodywork help?
While we bodywork practitioners are still exploring the use and efficacy of trigger point massage for tension headaches, many people find the results are worth paying a professional for. And even if bodywork or massage does not help your headaches, you may find that the soothing experience of a session complements additional treatment you might seek for your headaches.
If you’re experiencing headaches and would like to book a Thai Bodywork session, you can do so here.
In addition to techniques that directly attend to tension in the head, neck and shoulders (often the cause of tension headaches), I also offer more subtle work that addresses the whole body.
Ji Jai (Jit = mind/heart/thoughts, Jai = heart/mind/spirit) is a technique from traditional Thai Bodywork that addresses the heart-mind / mind-body connection on a subtle but deep level. After placing warm herbal compresses each side of the neck to create a cosy pillow and to soften the area through the heat and herbs, I gently thumb-press specific points on the body.
In Traditional Thai Medicine, wind = pain. The pain is thought to be caused by too much or not enough wind. The Jit Jai technique encourages the movement of subtle winds in the body, calms winds in the head (including mental winds), and calms anxiety, a broken heart, brain fog, and encourages a deep relaxation in the body. It is a particularly effective technique when a part of the body is too painful or inflamed to work on directly, or if a condition (like headaches) is triggered by regular hands-on bodywork.
I also sell portable (fit in your purse/bag size) Thai herbal inhalers (Ya Dom) for 8€ which you can buy at the time of your treatment, or I can send you the link to buy one online and post it to you. The herbal inhalers can help:
- reduce headaches, nausea and dizziness
- clear sinuses
- boost concentration
- calm the body and mind
And as always, if you have any questions about whether Thai Bodywork can help relieve your stress, tension and pain (however that manifests itself in your body), please get in touch by email or WhatsApp and we can set up a call.