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What Massage Can Do to Help Alleviate Tension Headaches

You’ve got three deadlines at work, you’re trying to pack your house for a move and your child just announced he’s not feeling well. Any ONE of those could send you down the path of a tension headache but all three together will definitely pack a punch.

What is a Tension Headache?

According to the Mayo Clinic: “A tension headache is generally a diffuse, mild to moderate pain in your head that's often described as feeling like a tight band around your head. A tension headache (tension-type headache) is the most common type of headache, and yet its causes aren't well-understood.” (Source)

You’ve probably had many of these so far in your life, and in fact are twice as likely to have had them if you’re a woman. While the pain can range from just a nagging pressure to a persistent aching, an important distinction in tension headaches is whether you get them occasionally or all the time. In other words, whether they’re ‘episodic’ or ‘chronic.’ Chronic tension headaches are defined as 15 or more headaches per month, over a period of three months.

Why is that important? Because how you treat them will likely be different. While you might choose to deal with an episodic tension headache with medication, longer term use of painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (Advil or Tylenol) have side effects too, including damage to the stomach lining, other gastrointestinal issues and more. A longer-term solution for chronic tension headaches should instead include a good dose of self-care, as well as massage therapy.

What Causes a Tension Headache?

No one really knows for sure, but one thing that is certain is that stress is a trigger. Other triggers can include hunger, low iron levels or even fatigue! So obviously, one way to help alleviate or prevent tension headaches is by eating balanced meals, getting a good night’s sleep and avoiding stress. That said, since our busy lifestyles of work deadlines and personal challenges aren’t likely to get easier, you need to find other ways to de-stress, unwind and relax.

How Can Massage Help with Tension Headaches?

A study outlined in the American Journal of Public Health noted that a structured course of massage therapy sessions, muscle specific—neck and shoulder areas—and focused on corresponding trigger points, resulted in a significant reduction in the frequency and duration of tension headaches for chronic sufferers.

And even better, these benefits were experienced not just in the first week after the four-week treatment period started, but was an ongoing benefit throughout the study and even beyond. The longer-term effects, rather than short term ‘one off’ benefits of medication, demonstrate the value in massage therapy as a treatment for tension headaches.

“The main message here for tension headache sufferers is to put together a series of targeted massage sessions which seek to alleviate the muscle tension and accumulated stress contributing to the cause of the headaches,” says Elements Massage Chief Wellness Officer, Eric Stephenson. He adds, “committing to multiple sessions over a short period of time can yield cumulative effects which can be felt in decreased frequency, duration and pain levels.”

Since massage has so many additional benefits, beyond the treatment of headaches, including reduction of stress, muscle tightness and myofascial release for restoring full range of motion, massage therapy is a positive choice, with no negative side effects!

Find an Elements Massage Studio® near you to set up an appointment with a trained massage therapist who can help you reduce your tension headaches, now and in the future.

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