It’s not always in your head: Headaches and tension-related head pain

Jesse Albert 2015

By: Jesse Albert
Jesse is a registered massage therapist at Body Poets who knows a thing or two about what it is like to find relief from headaches caused by trigger point activity. With an interest in trigger point therapy, Jesse has been able to cultivate further knowledge and experience in how trigger points behave and how they relate to head pain and tension.


Headaches. We’ve all experienced at least one in our lifetime, in one form or another. Most resolve themselves over time or with your standard over-the-counter medication and a big glass of water but sometimes, they require a little more effort to be rid of them.

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The Power of Relaxation

Ellen SymonsEllen Symons, RMT is an avid recipient of relaxation massage.

Relaxation is all about softness, right?

Well, kind of. Relaxation is a powerful technique. The repairing and rebuilding that your brain and body do when you’re relaxed are essential to your ability to live a strong and healthy life.

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A mouthful of hurt

Muscle of the month: TMJ muscles

You might have heard the term TMJ being passed around lately. TMJ headaches, TMJ clicking, TMJ pain. But what exactly is TMJ and why is it causing pain? The TMJ is your jaw, or better known in the medical field as your temporomandibular joint (now that’s a mouth full!). The jaw is a complicated joint that is easily overused and can cause pain. Read on to discover if the muscles of your TMJ could be the cause of your headaches or jaw pain.

Masseter: The great restrictorOttawa Massage blog masseter

Actions: Closing an open jaw, clenching

Common Pain Culprits: Excessive grinding of teeth or clenching of jaw.

The masseter is the most superficial muscle of the jaw, and is easily felt by placing your fingers on your cheeks and clenching your jaw. The bulge of muscle that moves your fingers is your masseter. For those who clench their jaws during stressful situations or grind their teeth, this muscle is over-engaged, causing it to become irritated and to cause pain. Below are common pain patterns from trigger points in the masseter. Tooth, jaw and ear pain can all be caused by an irritated masseter. This muscle is also the strongest of the jaw muscles, so when it becomes irritated, it can restrict the opening of the mouth far more than any other muscle.

Ottawa_massage_blog_Masseter_TRP

Temporalis: Ottawa massage blog temporalis

Actions: Closing an open jaw, retracting the jaw.

Common pain culprit: Chewing

Found on either side of your head, the temporalis helps to create the shape of your head. Easily felt by massaging your temple area, the temporalis can be treated during a face massage. The temporalis attaches into the jaw, so in order to treat the entire muscle during TMJ dysfunction, intraoral massage will be necessary. Trigger points in this muscle can refer into the teeth, and can also cause temporal headaches (as seen below).

ottawa_massage_blog_Temporalis_trp

Medial and Lateral Pterygoid: The deviators

Ottawa massage blog pterygoidsActions: Deviating the jaw from side to side. The medial pterygoid also works to close the jaw.

Common Pain Culprit: Grinding teeth

Those who grind their teeth are at highest risk of aggravating these muscles. This is because the medial and lateral ptreygoids work together to shift the jaw from side to side, an action commonly seen during tooth grinding. Trigger points in the muscle can cause ear pain too, which might mask the real dysfunction.

Medial pterygoid trp - ottawa massage lateral ptreygoid trp - ottawa massage

 

 

 

 

 

 

jaw massage - ottawa massage therapyIf you have been diagnosed with TMJ dysfunction, or believe it to be an issue, talk with your RMT about TMJ massage. Acupuncture is also a useful modality to treat TMJ dysfunction. Don’t let your jaw cause any more pain: get treatment today!

Holding your head high

Muscle of the Month: Suboccipitals

There are eight tiny muscles that have the huge job of keeping your head up, but they can cause a huge headache too! These are your suboccipital muscles. Resting in the nook at the base of the skull, these muscles are essential to fine head movements and in relaying proprioception of your head (where your head is in space and time) to your brain. When out of balance or strained, these muscles can cause temporal headaches and pain with neck movements.

Suboccipital - ottawa massage blog

Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor

Suboccipital - ottawa massage blog

Rectus Capitis Posterior Major

Actions – 

Rectus Capitis Posterior Major: Rock and tilt head back into extension, rotate head to same side

Rectus Capitis Posterior Minor: Rock and tilt head back into extension

Suboccipital - ottawa massage blog

Oblique Capitis Superios

Suboccipital - ottawa massage blog

Oblique Capitis Inferior

Oblique Capitis Superior: Rock and tilt head back into extension

Oblique Capitis Inferior: Rotate head to same side

Common pain culprit – Eye strain and extended head tilting.

When our eyes are strained, we adjust our head with fine movements to focus better. This puts a strain on the suboccipitals. Also, keeping our head in even a slight tilt for extended periods of time can cause increased strain resulting in pain in the suboccipitals. Having to tilt your head back while driving to avoid the sun streaming into your eyes under your visor, or having a computer screen slightly too low or too high, can keep the head in a tilted position all day. This isn’t an overly strenuous task for the body, but it is for the suboccipitals. Over time they will become strained and headaches can develop.

ottawa massage blog suboccipital-group trpThe fix: Postural adjustments, eye exams, deep trigger point work.

Adjusting your position while at your computer, while driving, even while walking, can help with suboccipital pain. Any time your head is overly tilted (up or down) for an extended period of time, your posture needs to be adjusted.

An eye exam might show the need for a new prescription. Having the proper glasses puts less stress on the eyes and on the suboccipitals! Progressive lenses can contribute to suboccipital strain if you have to tilt your head back for computer work, for example. Ask your optometrist to help you fix this.

Deep trigger point work can target these deep muscles. Remember, “deep” means into deeper layers of tissue; it doesn’t mean the treatment will hurt. Deep work will always be done within your comfort level. As superficial muscles relax, the deeper ones can be more readily accessed, and when we get access to the suboccipitals, we can relieve the trigger points causing headaches.

Strengthening your deep neck flexors, as we saw in this recent post on chin tucks, will help balance the musculature of the front and back of the neck and decrease any tendency you have to tilt your head back.

Ask your RMT for treatment and a self-care program to address any headaches you may be experiencing.

For the love of trigger points

Your beautiful body is connected via many, many different chains and pathways. A disruption in one chain can interrupt a number of paths, and cause pain elsewhere in the body. This is seen often with trigger point referral patterns.

What is a trigger point referral pattern, you ask?

It is probably what is causing your pain. It is a precise pattern of pain elicited by an active trigger point. A trigger point is a hyperirritable palpable spot in a taut band of muscle. In other words: a knot. Referral patterns have been documented by Travell and Simons and your massage therapist know them all too well.

Many of these referral patterns span the body, away from the trigger point site. What does this mean to you? It means that your headache might be caused by your back or neck, your back pain from your glutes, or your carpel tunnel pain from your elbow, shoulder or neck!

Take a look at these common patterns.Glute Medius Trigger Point - Ottawa Massage Blog Subscapularis Trigger Point - Ottawa Massage Blog Upper Trap Trigger Point - Ottawa massage blog

An RMT can help determine where the epicentre of pain is, and provide trigger point therapy for relief. When we get muscular pain, we initially think the massage should focus on the precise area of the pain, but it is important to get other areas addressed to pin-point where the dysfunction is. For your first treatment, it is good to get a general treatment as a preliminary scan of which muscles may be causing the pain; then a few follow-up appointments can be used to focus directly on the source of pain.

Discuss trigger points with your therapist at your next massage treatment.

The Trapezius – that pain in your neck!

Monthly Muscle: Trapezius

The trapezius, often known as the “traps”, is a large muscle that occupies 2/3 of your back.  Divided into three parts, the trapezius muscle has a variety of actions that help move your neck, shoulder blade and spine. This muscle has a tendency to be out of balance due to our typical western posture: hunched over a computer for hours a day. Today we will learn about the upper part of the muscle: what it does, why it hurts, how to help it. Check in soon for the next segment on the middle and lower trapezius!

Trapezius - Ottawa massage blog

Upper Trapezius: That pain in your neck.

Actions – Bends head to side, extends head back, rotates head to opposite side.

Common pain culprit – Head forward posture and hiked-up shoulders.

Neck Pain - Ottawa massage blog

Many clients will exclaim that their shoulders are “hard as rocks”. What you are really feeling are the tensed fibers of the upper trapezius muscle that can’t relax back to their normal resting tension. This is primarily caused by overexerting the fibers. You might also experience neck pain or headaches. The headache is caused by the upper trapezius trigger point, which has a referral pattern that wraps behind and above the ear like a question mark.

The fix? Reduce ‘knots’ and correct postural imbalances

Rolling on a ball, self-massage, chin tucks, neck and shoulder stretches

Ask your therapist on your next visit to show you a postural correction routine tailored for your needs.