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“You’re giving me a headache!”  How often do we find ourselves screaming this to family members or coworkers who are getting on our case?  For many of us though, this statement can be very true.  According to the National Headache Foundation, over 45 million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches.  The most common type is known as a tension headache or stress headache.  Let’s figure out how to get these under control.

While tension headaches rarely prevent us from continuing on with our daily lives, they can ironically, be quite irritating.  They often result from tightening of the muscles around the head, neck, and jaw which then pull on the surrounding tissues.  Generally described as a tight band or pressure around the forehead, temples, back of the neck, or scalp, these headaches can last for a brief 30 minutes or continue for days.

Some of the most common causes of tension headaches are: poor posture, fatigue, over exertion, eye strain, emotional stress, anxiety, hunger, or dehydration.  Although many of us experiencing a headache may desire a quick fix with over the counter painkillers, they do not cure headaches and can actually lose effectiveness over time.  Understanding these relatively benign and controllable causes is important.  It allows us to take action and nip these headaches in the bud and prevent them from ever getting in our way.

The best way to avoid tension headaches is to avoid the triggers. Try these:

  1. Engage in moderate activity or exercise

Walk around during your breaks.  Take work meetings on walks.  Not only does moderate exercise act as a stress reliever, the swinging motion of your arms during walking can help to joggle and relax the muscles more specifically into the regions of your neck and shoulders.

  1. Regulate your schedule – for work, sleep, and meals

Set a time to shut yourself off from work and take time for yourself to wind down before going to bed.  This can help you get a more restful and rejuvenating sleep.

Sleep at a regular time and try to get at least 7-8 hours per night.  Insufficient sleep can heighten your sensitivity to stress and increase the underlying tightness in your muscles; whereas restful sleep helps to keep you more alert and productive during the day.

Avoid skipping meals during the day to keep your blood sugar levels in check – eating small healthy snacks regularly may be more manageable on a tight schedule.  Try to drink 8-16 oz of water every 2 hours to stay hydrated,  as headaches and irritability are often the first signs of dehydration or hunger.

  1. Minimize muscle tightness

In addition to walking and sufficient sleep, remember to take some time out of the day for yourself.  Whether it be doing yoga, tai chi, meditating, or getting a massage, turning your mental focus internally can help to settle the mind and in turn relax your muscles.

Check on your posture and desk ergonomics.  The poor postural alignment commonly observed in office workers positions the head forward of the body, forcing the muscles in the back of the neck and shoulders to stiffen up in order to hold the head up.  Check these blogs entries for more info: Caring for the Office Worker and Achy Upper Back? Help is on the Way.

  1. Try self bodywork

Not only does self bodywork help to release knots in tight muscles, but they also help to focus your attention and calm your mind.  On a regular basis, it is helpful to work through the stiff neck and upper back muscles to prevent the tension from building up.

* Double Track Roller(s) may be substituted with two tennis balls taped together or placed in a tube sock

However, if you are currently experiencing a headache, deep massage into the area of the head and neck can actually intensify the pain.  Instead, try working lower into your back and feet, which can help to release the tension throughout the back of the body without aggravating your headache.  You may also find it helpful to simply lie down on the Spikylife Mat for 10-15 minutes and focus on your breath and the sensations, as you allow the tension to gradually melt away.

* Double Track Roller(s) may be substituted with two tennis balls taped together or placed in a tube sock

**Myofascial 5-Pack balls may be substituted with a variety of tennis, lacrosse, racquetball, or squash balls

The dreaded migraines come in a close second to tension headaches for frequency of occurrence.  However, they can be significantly more debilitating with associated neurological symptoms including: sensitivity to light, noise, or odors; nausea or vomiting; and loss of appetite.  Although the exact physiological cause of migraines is unknown, they can be relatively predictable if the instigating triggers are identified. The key once again, is to avoid these triggers along with any aggravating stimuli once it has begun.  Luckily, many of the same tricks used to fend off tension headaches are also effective for staving off migraines.