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About : Headaches

Group of stressed people having headache

     The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that half to three-quarters of all adults have reported at least one headache in the last year, with up to 4% of people reporting a headache at least half the days of the month. They also state that “headache has been underestimated, under-recognized and under-treated throughout the world”. A 1995 study reported that about three-quarters of headache sufferers reported dissatisfaction with medical encounters. This is likely due to the fact that traditional medical training tends to see headaches as a symptom to be treated, rather than treating the cause.  Often, the cause of the headache symptoms is muscle tension.


     The WHO also states that tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache. The cause of these headaches is most commonly trigger points in the muscles of the neck, upper back, shoulders and jaw. Referral pain from this muscle tension can directly cause the feeling of a headache. Continued stress on these muscles due to pain can also lead to an increase in nerve activity, causing the muscles to be kept in a state of hyperactivity, which further exacerbates the problem. Many people experience episodic tension-type headaches, but some people can experience symptoms of chronic tension headaches.

     Sufferers of tension-type headaches usually report pain that is present on both sides, dull and constant. There is usually neck and/or shoulder pain present at the same time. Chronic tension-type headaches usually begin in early adulthood, but many people may experience these headaches earlier or later in life depending on the presence of aggravating factors which include: stress, fatigue, cold, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), poor posture and physical trauma/ injury.

How Can Massage Therapy Help?

     Massage therapy treatment can help relieve the symptoms of headaches by reducing trigger point referral in muscles and by decreasing sympathetic nervous system firing. Often, a series of treatments is required to achieve long-term relief.

     The pictures on this page show referral patterns of muscles that are the most common culprits for tension headaches. However, this is not an exhaustive list and different headache referral patterns exist for other muscles of the back, neck and face. Appropriate massage therapy treatment can find these trigger points and release them, which decreases the referral to the head. Soothing massage techniques also decrease hyperactivity in the nervous system which helps to break the cycle of muscle pain and hypersensitivity. 

     Many people who suffer from migraines are more accurately described as having mixed headaches: a combination of migraine and tension-type headaches. While migraines are most appropriately treated by a medical doctor, massage therapy can help to relieve the tension headache side of this equation.

Please email me ( if you have any questions regarding massage therapy treatment for headaches!

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