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Simple Self-Massage Technique for Headache Sufferers
Common headaches generally consist of pain in or around the head and the face. The pain can be just on one side or can be bilateral. The type of pain can also vary ranging from a gentle ache through to throbbing or a pounding discomfort. The pain can be centered on a particular spot or can be widespread with no obvious focal point.
Headaches can range from slight and mildly annoying through to sever and debilitating. Whilst there are many different reasons why headaches can occur, one of the more typical causes is muscular tension. This muscular tension can be the result of physical injury to a muscle or muscles, tightness in the muscles from a repeated activity in which muscles are contracted for extended periods of time or just plain stress. Trigger points which are the result of muscular tension can be associated with the cause of headaches.
But what are trigger points? “
One definition of a trigger point is that they are “hyperirritable spots in skeletal muscle that are associated with palpable nodules in bands of muscle fibers”. They may also be considered as localised areas of pain that develop in muscles due to overuse or chronic spasms. Trigger points have the property that they create a reproducible and predicable pain pattern when it is activate.
One of the more relevant and surprising muscles in which trigger points can lead to headaches is called the sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM for short). This muscle is in the front of your neck which is probably why most people don’t consider it when they get headaches or neck pain – you normally get pain at the back of the neck, very rarely is there pain in the front. However trigger points in the SCM can cause a tremendous amount of pain and discomfort but it’s always referred somewhere else.
Frontal headaches or pressure across the forehead may well be the result of trigger points in the SCM. Also SCM trigger points can send pain to the eye, the sinuses and even make the back teeth sore. Other symptoms include scalp tenderness right at the top of your head, dizziness, visual disturbances and even increased production of mucous.
So where is the SCM and how do you massage it?
The SCM lies on the front and side of the neck, both left and right sides and attaches to the sternum (sterno), the clavicle (cleido) and the mastoid process (mastoid). It splits into two parts from the mastoid process, one going to the clavicle and one to the sternum. When both left and right SCMs contract at the same time then it brings the head forward and down, allowing chin to fall to the chest. When just one of the SCMs contract then it rotates and tilts your head to one side.
The good aspect of SCM trigger points is that they are easy to massage yourself. To work out where your SCMs are then look in a mirror and turn your head slightly to the right and tilt your left ear to your left shoulder. The SCM will bulge on the left as the muscle contracts. You should now be able to grasp hold of the muscle between your thumb and forefinger and follow the muscle virtually along its whole length.
Once you have located the muscle then grasp the muscle between thumb and fingers and massage (as with any self-massage be careful and mindful of sensitive areas – within the front of the neck there are nerves and blood vessels which need to be avoided). If you find any sensitive areas then these are likely to be trigger points and may refer pain to other parts of your heads. These tender spots can be massaged by holding for around 5 seconds and then massage in small circles around the sensitive areas. Leave the point alone for a little while and then return to it.
With repeated massaging then the sensitivity and pain levels should decrease. As with any massage then the mantra “no pain no gain” does not apply. Pain that is tolerable is ok but any excessive levels of pain are not appropriate. If pain and symptoms persist then please consult you health care professional.
SCM self-massage is easy to do and can be highly effective for reducing headaches. If you massage these muscles regularly over a period of time then the tender points in the muscles should become less and pain associated with SCM trigger point diminish.
Richard Lane is a trained and accredited massage therapist in Sydney. He provides mobile massage services to the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney through the
site. He also provides a resource for remedial and therapeutic massage therapists in Australia allowing therapists to list information about their own therapeutic massage clinics, including