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The most common type of headache, a tension headache can be caused by a variety of stressors and is often difficult to treat. What many patients don't know is that massage therapy can be an incredibly effective treatment. Learn more about how massage can help ease your pain without introducing more medication.

What is a Tension Headache?

The suboccipital muscle group is responsible for balancing your head on your spine and controlling fine movements. Your head is heavier than you might realize, so these muscles are working overtime as the jaw muscles pull in the other direction, and often harbor trigger points that can cause tension headaches. These conditions are often exacerbated by stress, emotional trauma, poor posture and a host of other situational issues common in modern life. 

As a result, many Americans deal with chronic tension headaches that they treat with prescription and over-the-counter medications. These medications can provide relief, but they can also cause unpleasant side effects. For many patients, pharmaceutical treatment simply isn't effective enough to outweigh those side effects and the associated risks. 

Common symptoms include a dull, aching pain in the head, tenderness of the scalp, shoulder and neck muscles and a feeling of pressure or tightness along the back and sides of the head, as well as the forehead. When these painful headaches occur for more than fifteen days a month over at least three months, they're considered a chronic condition.

Massage Treatment for Chronic Tension Headaches

When lifestyle factors and genetic predisposition work in tandem to create painful, chronic tension headaches, relief can feel like an unattainable goal without a seemingly constant flow of medication. Enter massage therapy, which can target the affected muscles to minimize your pain and potentially decrease the frequency of headache days.

Tension-type headaches can be caused by everything from muscular tension, disorders of the temporomandibular joint, eyestrain or musculoskeletal imbalances, all of which can be eased through massage therapy. Because chronic pain of any type is associated with higher instances of anxiety and depression, it's also important to note that the massage can increase serotonin production while lowering levels of cortisol. 

A licensed and knowledgeable massage therapist can decrease pain, intensity, and duration of a tension headache, as well as the need for pain medication. Massage can also increase your range of motion in the cervical region, which is often compromised by the muscle tension that causes the headache. Since the massage also lowers levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, it can help to combat the stress that contributes to the development of chronic tension headaches.

By improving autonomic nervous system regulation, massage therapy can provide meaningful relief for patients whose chronic tension headaches interfere with daily activities. In turn, patients often see a direct improvement in their quality of life when headaches are less frequent, less intense and less debilitating. Because massage treatments are non-invasive, extremely low risk for most of the population and do not involve prescription medication, they're also a safe alternative to traditional treatment.

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