Tension Headaches and Massage

Tension headaches are dull pain, tightness, or pressure around your forehead or the back of your head and neck. Some people say it feels like a clamp squeezing the skull. Often called stress headaches, they’re the most common type for adults.

As a massage therapist I see people who come in with pounding headaches. Most of them are tension headaches. For some people their doctor tells them the only way to make them go away and stop them from reoccurring is massage. Some people without the doctors advice decide they will go massage route. Medications and muscle relaxers can only do so much and sometimes not much at all. If a person has a lot of repetitive strain in their work or daily life, stress, driving, sports etc.- they will develop knots, tense muscles that the only way you can lengthen them and relax is by manual manipulation which is massage.

Tight Trapezius Muscle + Headache

Tight Trapezius Muscle + Headache

Massage Helps

When I get a person who comes in with a tension headache, first I work on their upper back, mid back, and shoulder muscles, than turn them face up and work on their neck muscles, head, possibly TMJ area, temples. Usually in person with tension headache these areas are the primary culprints for pain. More often then not, their lower back, QL muscle, hips, Glutes, piriformis, hamstrings are also tender and tight. However that is not a priority at the time. It just goes to show how tension is connected to the whole body. Very rarely that the tension is originating from the spot where the pain is. And that’s what clients learn. That when I press on one end of the muscle the origin where it hurts actually relaxes. So in other words it is necessary to work the whole muscle web/the system.

Many times at first these muscles cant take much pressure or work right away. The key is starting easier and maybe dividing work in several appointments. Otherwise a person will be tensing up during the whole treatment time and will feel very sore for the next couple of days after it. Which is not something we want.

Some soreness is ok and actually beneficial sometimes. Muscles have been “worked out” like a workout in the gym without actually you going into the gym, it means they are getting stronger.

When To Seek Treatment And How Often

STR and Tension Headaches

STR and Tension Headaches

When you get them less than 15 days per month, they’re called episodic tension headaches. If they happen more often, they’re called chronic.

Doesn’t matter if you have episodic, chronic or one in a lifetime headache. It feels awful. I personally have gotten a bad tension headache probably once so far. And it was after I worked way too much straight for about two weeks. I could feel it coming on but could not stop work because of the commitments made. I was due to get a massage as well. If I have gotten one I would have bypassed that headache. I learned my lesson. So for me its every two weeks in moderate work load time, once a week when very busy and up to once a month of I am vacationing and work load is light.

It’s good to be in touch with your body and listen to the sings. If you feel like your tension levels are high- get a massage more often.

Here is the video I have made that helps to reduce tension in the upper back and neck muscles, thus potentially reducing tension headaches from occurring:


-Jolita Brilliant. LMT

35 King St, Suite 9,

Burlington, VT


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