Introduction To Tension Headache Treatment

There are many different ways to treat tension headaches, and it’s just as well because we don’t all respond to the same stuff. Some are happy to simply take a pill or identify their triggers and avoid them, while others feel a strong impulse to try and resolve their tension headaches completely.

Unsurprisingly, there is no one treatment that can be said to successfully treat all tension headaches, it is very much a ‘horses for courses’ topic. If you take acupuncture as a headache treatment for example, some  people find that acupuncture for headaches is completely life changing while others don’t get any relief from acupuncture for their tension headaches whatsoever.

The key to truly effective management and relief of tension headache in most cases is working with a team (or teams) who are willing to take a sufficiently flexible approach. Trialling a number of different therapies to see what works best for your specific case is a good approach. 

Longer term management of tension headaches frequently requires more than just the right ‘treatments’. In stubborn tension headache cases, finding treatment that brings relief is often just the start point. 

Stress management, lifestyle adjustments, postural correction,, trigger avoidance and even dietary tweaks are often necessary. Coaching for these important changes in those who want to make them is what we do. 

Tension Headache Treatment – Our 3 Step Process 

Step 1 – Pain Management 

The first step to take if you are suffering with tension headaches is to reduce your pain. Some people come to us because they are having a very bad headache that won’t shift, others because they have just had enough of their headaches; in either case our top priority is pain relief. We combine ‘hands on’ treatments like those listed below to try and reduce your pain as quickly as possible.

We are all individuals! There is A LOT of variation when it comes how quickly tension headaches reduce once they are getting the treatment they need. Our normal approach is to try and achieve momentum with frequent weekly treatments at first and then gradually taper the frequency as your tension headaches reduce.

Step 2 – Lifestyle Adjustments

Work activities, work stations, stress, sleep position, teeth grinding, diet, posture and the way we exercise can all be major ingredients in the tension headache recipe. In the many cases tension headaches are ‘your body trying to tell you something’.

Our in depth knowledge of how lifestyle factors that can impact the likelihood of tension headaches enables us to offer coaching and feedback on how to make any necessary changes.

Step 3 – Rehabilitation & Maintenance

If you are completely fed up of having tension headaches, longer term action may be required to keep them at bay. Rehabilitation and prevention are our favourite topics. Tension headaches are frequently caused by chronic postural issues, chronic stress issues or old injuries, so there may be exercises that you need to do.

Some exercises for tension headaches are those that effectively stretch and mobilise tension and scar tissue in the neck and jaw. Some people have a need for exercises that ‘teach ‘them how not to clench their neck and jaw when they are stressed. A percentage of tension headache sufferers also require exercises to strengthen their postural muscles.

Treatments For Treatment Headaches 

Spinal Mobilisation For Tension Headaches

Your spinal column is made primarily of a series of bones, these bones are able to move and flex because of the discs, connective tissues and small joints that connect them. There is only a small amount of movement within each ‘segment’ of the spine but when you add all those little units of movement up you have a reasonably flexy column. 

The facet joints (small knuckle sized weight bearing joints) in your neck are a prime suspect for generating headaches. It is the facet joints that have locked when you can’t turn your head. It’s these little joints that get injured you get a whiplash. The majority of neck pain sufferers have one or more locked up, facet joints in their neck. They can however also cause tension headaches through activation of the complex pain pathways deep in the neck and skull.

Spinal mobilisation or spinal manipulations mobilise the facet joints and restore movement to your neck and may bring great relief from tension headaches. There are heaps of ways in which facet joints can be mobilised, flicking movements, gentle stretches in specific directions, classic ‘popping’ type of adjustments and by using hand held adjusting tools. Different body types respond differently to different techniques.

Scar Tissue Release (Graston Technique / Guasha) For Tension Headache

Many people suffer with stubborn tension headaches caused in part by the tension and tightness caused by  scar tissue from old injuries in their neck and jaw. Scar tissue can be left in the wake of almost any historical incident of neck trauma or head trauma. 

Scraping carefully in and around the soft tissues of the neck using a blunt scraping tool is the core method behind how we manage scar tissue in the neck. Guasha is the traditional Chinese name for this technique. There are many other forms from different cultures and there are also more modern techniques like Graston Technique. The idea with all of them is to break up and assist with remodeling of microscopic scar tissue adhesions, which are a major cause of tension headaches.

Deep Tissue Muscle Release For Tension Headaches

Many cases or persistent or recurring tension headaches are caused by ‘pressure points’ or  ‘myofascial trigger points’, these are the sore spots you feel in your muscles when you get a deep tissue massage.

At Featherston St. Pain Clinic we are experts at finding and releasing deep pressure points in the jaw and neck that cause headaches. It’s not fun to have done (we know that only too well ourselves) but boy does it help with the management of tension headaches. Many people find we can ‘recreate’ their headache by putting pressure on specific muscle points, this immediately creates a compelling sense that we are working on the problem… which we are.

Whether these type of muscles releases work for your headaches or not is basically determined by which of the soft tissues in your neck are generating pain signals. If your muscles are generating your headaches you will proabably find great relief with deep tissue work like this.

Suction Cups For Tension Headaches

Cupping massage or  cupping therapy has been used for thousands of years across cultures. Not only is cupping still around for good reason, it is also currently undergoing a powerful resurgence. 

Using suction cups for the treatment for neck and shoulder tension releases muscle congestion, stretches the fascia, can bring great relief and leaves funny marks that your friends and family will assume are bruises. Cupping can help significantly with tension headaches by reducing tension in the soft tissues of the neck and shoulders.

Acupuncture/Dry Needling For Tension Headaches

Acupuncture can be very helpful in the management of many tension headache cases. We don’t approach acupuncture in the traditional way where needles are placed in numerous locations, we generally focus directly on the neck and sometimes the jaw when we are treating headaches.

Acupuncture aims to reduce muscle spasm, promote blood flow in the soft tissues, release pressure points in muscle and reduce pain signals. Needles are placed very superficially around the area of pain and we generally leave them in for around 10 minutes, depending on your body’s tolerance to them. If acupuncture works for your tension headaches, you will usually start to feel the benefits within the first few sessions.

Percussion Massage For Neck Pain

 Percussion has been an established component of soft tissue release, massage and even respiratory healthcare for thousands of years and it is still used widely today. Percussion massage as treatment for neck pain generally involves the use of mechanical massage devices. It is designed to break up scar tissue and promote blood flow within the soft tissues. 

Postural Correction Treatments For Tension Headaches

When our posture suffers we compress our necks, its unavoidable, the more you hunch forward the more your neck shortens. Shortening and compressing of the neck bones over time can lead to a build up of the type of inflammation and tightness that leads to tension type headaches.

By taking the time to correct posture is potentially a great way to reduce the frequency and severity of tension type headaches. Posture is made up of habit, muscle activity, the flexibility of the soft tissues and the genetic shape of your bones. If you are willing to work at the parts of this equation that you can influence you have an excellent chance of improving your headaches.

A sub-category of posture is held within the seemingly subtle (but not really) way that we hold tension in our jaws, tongues and necks. The way that we use and hold our jaw/neck is a part of our posture, and a major influencer in the realm of neck pain and tension headaches