While it may seem like the most effective way to combat a headache is to reach for an over-the-counter or prescription pain-killer, it’s possible that a natural solution may not only relieve your headache faster but may attack the pain at its source. If tension or migraine headaches are caused by muscle tension, then it makes more sense to relieve the tension instead of just numbing the pain.
Three of the muscles belonging to the suboccipital group at the base of the skull are likely responsible for many cases of tension headache; these muscles are the rectus capitis posterior major, rectus capitis posterior minor and the obliquus capitis superior. All three muscles attach to the skull; the first two connect to the topmost cervical vertebrae in the neck, and the third connects to another muscle in the neck.
The suboccipital muscles are responsible for head extension, or raising the head. Commonly, these muscles are tight in people with forward head posture. This postural dysfunction occurs when the head extends forward of the body’s center line; the suboccipitals must work overtime to keep the head facing forward from this position.
Place your fingertips on the back of your head and arch your neck back; you’ll likely feel the muscles in your skull tense up. When the suboccipitals tighten, they exert a pull on muscles throughout the skull. This tension is believed to result in tension headaches – the throbbing, aching and tightness that wraps around the head for anywhere from hours to days.
Chronic tension in the suboccipital muscles can cause trigger points – knots that form in the connective tissue surrounding the muscles that make it difficult to relax them. Myofascial release is a targeted form of massage therapy designed to loosen tight connective tissue. You can practice self-myofascial release (SMR) at home with the use of a trigger point device to treat suboccipital tension.
You can view a video of suboccipital SMR at http://www.YouTube.com/watch?v=kHF95SF8cYw. Be careful not to roll over your spine when performing this technique. When you encounter a tender knot, pause on it and apply deep, sustained pressure for 30 seconds.
There is a theoretical connection between migraine headache and the rectus capitis posterior minor muscle. This muscle connects to the dura, a pain-sensitive protective layer that supports the brain. Tension in this muscle can exert a pull on the dura, and this may cause migraine pain.
See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14979889 for more on this connection.
If dural traction is the cause of your migraine headaches, then simple SMR may be enough to relieve pain. Before taking medication next time, consider trying out this technique.
On top of myofascial release, you’ll need to work to correct postural distortion and other causes of chronic muscle tension like stress. Chronic pain often has a complex of causes and, therefore, solutions; seek out natural treatments before investing in risky and invasive methods.