What can you do about Tension Headaches?

POSTURE and EXERCISES

Where your shoulders and your head stand in space affects your suboccipital muscles(located between your skull and top of your neck), your scalene muscles (to the sides of your neck), your SCM (front of your neck from the middle of your neck to the big bump behind your ear) and your trapezius muscles.  All of these muscles become tight and develop trigger points (tender spots) that may refer pain to your head.

To avoid this:

Always carry your shoulders back and down.  If you look at yourself from the side, your head should be right on top (versus forward) of your shoulders.  Your ear should align with your shoulder joint.  This position should be maintained at all times even when being physically active.  If you need to talk with someone at a lower level (say you are a teacher talking to a student), lower your body so that you don’t have to look down.

Do regular chin tucks.  Yes, this is the only time double chins are really desirable. A chin tuck involves translating your head back horizontally, not flexing your chin towards your chest.  Think of the way ducks or chickens move their heads when they walk.  This strengthens your cervical (neck) stabilizers and stretches your suboccipital muscles.

Shrug your shoulders and stretch your upper shoulder musculature regularly during the day.  The shrugging will warm up your trapezius and levator scapula muscles and it will be easier to stretch them.

STRESS BUSTERS

Practice relaxation techniques.  From the simplest which is focusing on your breathing to more advanced techniques involving imagery.  To make sure you are breathing correctly read my post on breathing at:  https://nuchiro.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/staying-healthy-with-good-breathing-technique/

Join a yoga class.  Yoga is great at mixing breathing and movement.  It mixes meditation with movement.  However, the idea here is to take a class where the focus is not competition.  Try different places before you choose one.  Let the instructor know that you are new to yoga.  Also make sure to stay towards the front of the class so that the instructor can correct you.  Yoga is great, but if you are not monitored correctly during the initial stages, you can develop injuries later on.

Change your attitude towards stress.  Everyone experiences stress.  Stress will always be there.  You have no control over life in general, but you can control yourself.  Don’t take things personally.  Be flexible at work.  Whatever you do always think things work out for the best.  Develop an adventuresome spirit in which you see life’s challenges as new adventures.

Have a professional evaluate your movement biomechanics (the way you move).  You are connected from head to toe.   How you walk or sit might be creating your headaches.  Remember our leg, core and back muscles do a lot of shock absorption which might jar joints all the way up to our head.  This shifts some of the stress to  smaller neck and head muscles which are not designed to deal with a great amount of instability.

NUTRITION

Stay away from processed foods (packaged meals).  Not only do they contain many chemicals and toxins that tend to accumulate, but their nutritional density is very low.  In oriental philosophy, the liver, spleen and kidney meridians were associated with tendons, muscles and bone respectively.  It’s very interesting that the liver and kidney are directly responsible for detoxification (or elimination of harmful metabolites) and the spleen removes used up blood cells from our circulatory system.  Toxin infested body, impaired removal of toxins and tension headaches, make the connection.

Eliminate smoking, alcohol, chemical dependency on medication and other vices.  Any addiction only mask other problems in your life which usually create stress.  Unfortunately, you end up not dealing with the root of the problem and adding another source of stress into your life when you realize your addiction controls you. Not to mention the physiological damage they cause in your body.

Consume an anti-inflammatory diet.  Basically, this means eat plenty of vegetables. Reduce or eliminate simple sugars (soft drinks, pastries, candy, preserves, syrups,and similar products).  Reduce you red meat (that includes pork) consumption to a minimum.  Eat plenty of fish and/or supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids.  Get your carbs from complex sources like whole grains and starchy vegetables.  Supplement with antioxidants: Vitamin A,C,E and the mineral selenium.

MAGNESIUM

25% of the magnesium in the body found in muscle.  Clinically, it works as a muscle relaxant in the long run.  You should consume about 600 mgs of magnesium daily.  Make sure, however, that you are consuming enough calcium on your diet.  You may also choose to buy a Calcium/Magnesium supplement.   Too much magnesium may cause diarrhea so don’t go too far beyond the recommended dosage.

USE ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES

Chiropractic and Acupuncture have been proven to help with these kinds of headaches. Chiropractic manipulation helps relax muscles around  joints and restore balanced movement.  Acupuncture removes energy imbalances in different parts of the body.  It has also been proven to decrease pain after several treatments.  Also deep tissue massage and trigger point therapy directed towards affected muscles works wonders.

Finally, I would like you to read my post on red flags for headaches a few weeks ago and to consult with your primary care physician before you implement any changes on your headache fighting routine.

NEXT UP on the headaches series:  Cervicogenic Headaches

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About nuchiro

I graduated from National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, IL in 2005 with a Doctor of Chiropractic degree. I have also been a certified personal trainer since 1999. I believe that Total Wellness, of which physical fitness is only a part, can be achieved relatively easily when people focus on attaining a harmonious balance in the different aspects of their lives. For an appointment, feel free to contact me at dr.veaz@nuchiro.com .
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