Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Spring/Summer 2004.
Headaches account for more than 10 million visits to doctors each year, according to the National Headache Foundation. Neck aches frequently lead to headaches or combine with them. Tense muscles press against the blood vessels and nerves in the head and neck and create pain.
“The muscles in your head [sometimes neck and shoulders, too] are in spasm during a headache,” explains Alexander Mauskop, M.D., professor of clinical neurology at SUNY-Health Science Center of Brooklyn and director of the New York Headache Center. “But we don’t know if this is the main cause, or if it’s the result of something that happens in the brain to start the spasm.”
There are a variety of ways to deal with head and neck pain. These include adjusting your body position, exercising, relaxing in a warm bath, stretching, watching your eating habits, taking pain killers, and getting a massage. The following five self-massage practices will also help ease the muscle spasms that create pain, and they will give you a head start on prevention and treatment.
Tension headaches can feel as though there is a tight band around your head. By massaging the band, you can often relieve the muscle spasms that produce the pain.
1. Press your fingertips against your temples.
2. Without sliding your fingers over the skin surface, move the scalp back and forth.
3. After a few seconds, move your fingertips farther back around the headache band and repeat the back and forth movement.
4. When your fingers meet at the back of your head, reverse direction until you’ve massaged the entire headache band, including your forehead. Then relax your arms and hands with your eyes closed for a few minutes.
5. Finish by gently squeezing each eyebrow between your thumb and index finger. A few hints as you perfect this self massage:
--Only move the scalp a half-inch at the most. Don’t rub it.
--This doesn’t require a lot of pressure. You don’t want to exhaust your hands and arms in the process.
--Try gently massaging your entire scalp if necessary, taking rest breaks as your hands and arms tire.