Tension Headaches

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

by Paul Stefanus Bester



Many of us go through our days grunting from regular, persistent dull & gnawing headaches. Rather than popping the first painkiller to subdue the symptoms, these headaches are simple to treat. Headaches in general are a predisposed symptom of an underlying condition. Conditions that are often very simple to treat once identified properly.

In this short blog, we will place some focus on tension headaches. In today’s modern world of technology, the leading cause of tension headaches are: stress and bad posture when digitally communicating and/or conducting simple everyday business. These tension headaches have a very unique pattern of presentation. A dull band-like pressure is felt around the head, above the ears and up to the temples. This alongside with muscle soreness in the neck and shoulder region can become increasingly overwhelming.

One of the most common looked over attributors of tension headaches is the levator scapulae muscle. Attaching to the most medial superior angle of the scapula and stretching up to attach to cervical vertebrae’s C1-C4 posterior tubercle on the transverse processes. This single muscle is solely responsible for elevation of the scapula, while assisted by the trapezius in the shrug motion. The trapezius muscle forms a sheath over the shoulder covering the levator scapulae muscle below, thus confusion of pain is often misdirected and overlooked. The levator scapulae are, however, the main instigator when initiating muscular spasms in the trap region due to its own hypertonicity.

These spasms and/or hypertonic muscles are the underlying cause and effect of tension headaches and are the root of the symptomatology. Addressing these taught muscles can firstly been done by having a sports massage to ease the tension and increase the blood flow to the area of pain. Notice the mention of sports massage, as it is not meant to be a relaxation message as much as a restorative message using techniques like effleurage (Long broad strokes with weighted pressure) and pettrisage (Kneading of muscle the release tension). The increase in blood flow in turn allows endorphins and nutrients to reach the target area, alongside removing toxic cellular waste like lactic acid out from muscle. The release in tension and stretching of taught muscle decreases the tonicity to normal state and allows the nervous stimulation of the upper shoulder and neck to do the same. Overstimulation of a nerve causes chronic induced pain and can only be removed by manual muscular manipulation to reduce inflammation in the muscle as well as the innervation of the muscle.

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