Are Your Headaches Being Caused by Muscle Tension?
Headaches have many different causes ranging from poor working posture, eyesight issues, dehydration, hormonal imbalance, cold and flu symptoms and also stress.
There are many different types of headache which can affect the head and neck areas and they can differ in duration and location.
The most common headache which affects a higher percentage of the population can be a tension or stress induced headache. We tend to hold stress and muscular tension within the neck and shoulder areas which is the root cause of these headaches.
Why Does Muscular Tension Cause Headaches?
To answer this question, we need to look at the anatomy of the head and neck to really improve our understanding of this type of headache. If you take a look at the image below you can see all of the muscles that originate from the shoulder region which link to the neck and head:
As mentioned earlier, tension due to stress but also commonly from poor working position or prolonged period of time spent on mobile phones, laptops or reading can place too much strain on the tissue which sit from the upper back and join on to the lower part of the skull.
Increased tension, tightness and sometimes weakness of these muscles starts to increase the tension – meaning the muscles and their attachments start to pull on the skull and cause headache. Its not surprising that headaches are caused when most of the tissue attaches halfway up the back of the head.
Treatment of Tension Headaches
Treating a headache and the method you choose can depend on how severe it is and how long it lasts for. A typical tension headache can last anywhere from 30 mins to a few hours. To relieve symptoms with treatment – consider these options:
- Pain Relief – simple over the counter pain relief can be a great way to take the sting pout of a headache.
- Heat – microwaveable wheat cushions, heat pads, water bottles or heat creams to the neck and shoulders can help to relieve symptoms.
- Head and neck movements and stretching – if muscles are tense this can be for many reasons but a good way to reduce symptoms would be to try simple head movements to gain mobility in the area and then if this is possible, try some gentle neck stretches holding your head in to different directions for 15-20 seconds per time. Gentle shoulder rolling can also be a great way of reducing tension and attempting to gain some relief.
- Massage – if you can access it quickly enough – get a massage to the head and neck areas – this minimises tension in the symptom causing areas. If you can’t get for a massage – see if a friend, partner or family member can gently knead the tissues or if there’s no one round – try and give yourself a neck rub!
Prevention of Tension Headaches
If you suffer from regular headache caused by muscular tension, the goal should always certainly be prevention. Listed below are the main issues you should be addressing to avoid tension headaches.
- Desk Workers – if you work at a desk or with a laptop – ensure you get a correct DSE assessment to ensure your working environment is correct – long term use of a poorly setup workstation can place your head, neck and shoulders under unneeded stress which causes tension to build. While at work – mobilise your head, neck and shoulders throughout the day to stop the build up of tension.
- Sports Massage / Deep Tissue Massage – if you have been prone to regular headaches, planning massage treatment into your schedule will prove helpful. Massage has the ability to relax the tissues, decrease pain and improve mobility within the affected area – all of these things will reduce your chances of developing headache.
- Exercise – strengthening the neck, head and shoulders will help to make this area more robust and lower the number of headaches you get. Strength training in the gym or at home with the right weights and resistance helps to keep muscles, tendons and joints strong and resilient. If you have a weak neck head and shoulders (ladies are naturally weaker due to lower muscle mass) you can be more vulnerable to problems developing in these areas.
- Stress Management and Meditation – if your muscular tension is caused by a build up of stress at work or home – ensure you are taking the correct steps such as mindfulness, meditation and managing stressful situations to help improve your wellbeing.
Stretches to relieve or prevent tension headaches
Levator Scapulae and Scalenes
In conclusion, tension headaches can be caused by many different factors – but the management of them is simple. If you have a headache try and treat with a method, you find appropriate but always look to prevent by identifying a cause and changing your routine!
If you have been suffering from headaches, book an appointment in clinic to see how we can help you today.
All of our exercise prescription photos and videos in this blog came from our clinical software Rehab My Patient.