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Natural Solutions for Tension Headaches
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on May 20, 2009
Tension-type headaches typically involve dull or pressure-like pain in and around your temples, forehead, scalp, or the back of your neck. Often times, the pain associated with a tension-type headache will feel like it's being created by a band of pressure that's tightening around your head.
Although emotional stress, anxiety, and depression are among the most common causes of chronic, intermittent tension-type headaches, tension headaches can also be caused by pure physical stressors, such as poor posture, sleeping with your neck in an awkward position, or any type of physical injury that has caused muscles in and around your head and neck to become tight.
Unlike migraine and cluster headaches, tension headaches tend to respond quickly to simple physical measures. What follows are the key recommendations that I typically share with clients who are looking to overcome chronic tension-type headaches via simple lifestyle measures:
Spend a minimum of 20 minutes each day in a session of meditation or deep relaxation. Doing so can help alleviate emotional stressors that may be contributing to your tension-type headaches. For meditation and relaxation sessions, I have found EarthRain to be an enormously effective tool.
Be mindful of positions that your neck and head are forced to take on for extended periods throughout the day. Strive to position your neck and head in such a way that you do not feel tension in your eyes, neck, or shoulders. Reading and writing with your neck bent down and to one side are killer culprits - do what you can to minimize this posture.
Upon receiving approval from your primary health care provider, consider applying manual pressure to the following acupuncture points:
Gall Bladder 20 (GB-20): Located behind your head in the first major depression that you can feel below the base of your skull, about two finger widths away from the midline of your neck.
For those with knowledge of human anatomy: This point is at the junction of the occipital and nuchal regions, in a depression that lies between the origins of the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles. It is approximately at the level of the lower margin of the external occipital protuberance.
Application of pressure to GB-20 is meant to affect:
- Semispinalis capitis muscle
- Splenius capitis muscle
- Rectus capitis posterior muscle
- Obliquus capitis superior muscle
- Greater occipital nerve
- Less occipital nerve
- Suboccipital nerve (C1)
- Motor fibers from dorsal rami of upper cervical nerves
- Branches of the occipital artery and tributaries of the companion vein
Belly of Your Temporalis Muscle*: Located in the center of your temple region. Palpate this region with your first and middle fingers pressed closely together until you find a tender, muscular zone. If you have trouble locating this point, place your fingers against your temples and then bite down on your molars a few times - you should feel the main muscle belly of your temporalis muscles bulge in and out.
For those with knowledge of human anatomy, pressure on the belly of the temporalis muscle is meant to affect:
- Deep temporal nerves that branch off from the third division (mandibular) of the trigeminal nerve
- Cutaneous branches of the greater occipital nerve
- Deep temporal artery and companion vein
Large Intestine 4 (LI-4): Located in the soft, fleshy web that sits between your thumb and forefinger.
For those with knowledge of human anatomy, this point is meant to affect:
- A muscular branch of the median nerve
- The deep branch of the ulnar nerve
- Proper palmer digital nerves from the first common palmar digital nerve
- The superficial branch of the radial nerve
- Tributary branches of the cephalic vein, the radial artery, and the first dorsal metacarpal artery and companion veins
For optimal results, use your fingers and/or thumbs to massage these points on both sides of your body for a few minutes at a time, up to several times a day. When you correctly locate these points, you should feel some tenderness when you apply pressure to them. Apply enough pressure/massage to create a mild, dull, and possibly achy sensation.
If you are not sure about the location of GB-20 and LI-4, I highly recommend that you take a look at the following book, the best of its kind:
I recommend this as a must-have reference book for every person who is interested in natural health remedies, as it provides excellent illustrations of all of the major acupressure points that can be used to treat a wide variety of health challenges. I will continue to refer to various points that are illustrated in this book as I write more articles on how to use acupressure to address different health challenges.
Beyond using acupressure to address tension-type headaches, you can also go through a series of six simple stretches to keep the muscles that surround your head and neck at a healthy tone. To view these stretches, click here:
It may also be helpful to stretch your mid and upper back in the following fashion:
Please note: If you find that consistent application of the suggestions provided in this article does not lead to significant improvement with your headaches, you should consult with your primary health care provider to rule out other less common causes of pain and discomfort in your head and neck regions.
* The belly of your temporalis muscle does not contain a classically defined acupuncture meridian point. It is a point that I have found through personal clinical experience to be an effective treatment site for tension-type headaches.
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