Many headaches are caused by tensions in the muscles, especially those which seem impossible to get rid of. They’re caused by tensions in the muscles of the neck, and sometimes also from upper back and even jaw-muscles. Research has shown a clear connection between active trigger points and various headaches, the location of the headache indicating where the guilty trigger point or points are.
There are good news though. Headaches caused by trigger points and muscle tensions can be treated and cured by yourself. All it takes is knowing a bit of massage technique and knowing where to apply it. Below I’ll explain how to find trigger points in the two muscles which most often cause those headaches.
Trigger points in muscles tend to refer pain to other places, and in the case of headaches, the trigger points are not found in the head, but in the muscles of the neck, including the trapezius. Trigger points causing headaches are often located in the trapezius and the sternocleidomastoid, and massaging and squeezing these trigger points can relieve most headaches caused by muscular tensions. It’s worth trying before taking painkillers. Another important point is that by releasing trigger points you deal with the cause of the headache instead of just treating the symptoms. Of course, you should also take into consideration how you use your body to avoid trigger points from emerging again.
The first muscle to check is the sternocleidomastoid, which is an easy muscle to spot. It’s the muscle used to turn the head and it becomes very visible when you tighten your neck or lift the head from a pillow. It’s that noticeable muscle that goes from just behind your ear, across your neck to the chest, ending where the sternum and collarbones meet. This muscle can be grabbed between thumb and two fingertips, much like a pincer would. You can also roll the muscle between your fingertips to get a better grip around it and help find the trigger points.
Start at the top of the muscle, just behind your ear and squeeze. Slowly work your way down the muscle until you come to sore or tender areas. Once you reach such an area try to feel for “knots”. Slowly press on these knots and use a short stroke as if you squeeze liquid out of it. Do some 8-10 such strokes before moving onwards to the next sore point. Don’t be surprised if there are several points. There are three main trigger point areas in the sternocleidomastoid, at the top, middle and bottom.
You will likely be able to feel your headache reproduced when you squeeze on the trigger point. The pain can refer to the forehead, eyebrow area, around the ear, back of the head, top of the head and even the chin. If you feel the referred pain, then you know for certain that you’ve found and are treating an active trigger point.
The trapezius is a large muscle covering most of the upper back and is shaped like a kite. It has corners at the shoulders, at the base of the neck and has the fourth corner far down the spine. It’s the muscle you can easily grip when you grab the meaty part between your shoulder and neck. There are several areas of the trapezius where trigger points are prone to appear and activate. These points tend to refer pain to the temple, jaw, the side of the neck, back of the neck and also that burning sensation you can get between the shoulder blades after a long day in front of the computer.
To deal with temple headaches, grab the roll of muscle between shoulder and neck with your fingers like a pincer. The upper edge feels like a small pencil or thin rod that. Trigger points are easily located here and should be massaged. Progress from one end to the other just like you did with the sternocleidomastoid, releasing the trigger points as you encounter them.
Gripping more of the muscle with your fingers will allow you to search for other trigger points and release them. There are trigger points located between the shoulder blades, close to the edge which you can reach by taking a hard ball and place that between your back and a wall. Then press against the ball and move your body so you reach the sore spots. Once you find a sore or painful spot, roll the ball over it several times until the pain lessens.
Alternatively, you can have a partner use a thumb or fingertips and press on the trigger points. In this case, be sure you clearly speak out when it hurts and if the pressure is too much, direct and guide your partner. Not all are able to feel the knots and know where to press and massage to release them.
Be prepared to repeat your self-treatment 4-6 times a day for a couple of days, up to a week before the pain will completely disappear. Many will feel instant release just after one self-treatment, but the headache might return later. When the trigger points have successfully been released, the headaches will be gone too and only stressing the muscles again, for instance from poor working positions and poor posture will cause them to come back.
Should you find that releasing the trigger points do not relieve the pain, consider if you’re found the right trigger points. The neck has a complex collection of muscles, and trigger points in muscles not mentioned in this article can cause headaches as well. In this case, seek a massage therapist who knows about trigger points, or study a book on trigger points and learn more. Almost all trigger points can be self-treated if only you know where to massage. Below is a link to massage books about trigger point therapy you might find useful if you wish to pursue this topic further.