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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Tugging on My Hamstrings

Muscle of the month: The Hamstrings (biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus)

The hamstrings consist of three distinct muscles that make up the bulk of the posterior thigh. Working opposite to the quadriceps (remember The Thigh Who Loved Me?), like a pulley, these powerful muscles provide mobility, stability, and coordination of the lower extremity. From walking and running, to busting a move on the dance floor, our hamstrings are working hard to keep us moving and grooving.

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Irritated Iliopsoas

Muscle of the month: Iliospoas

Psoas-majorDeep inside your abdomen, beneath your abs and beyond your viscera, lies the elusive iliopsoas.

The iliopsoas is actually a combination of two muscles, psoas major and the iliacus muscle. It spans the area of the lower back and the inside of the hip bone, and then crosses the hip joint where it inserts onto the top of the femur. Pain may occur along any area of its length but is noted as a common source of low back and hip pain.

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How to: Take an Epsom salt bath

One of the most frequent and popular bits of homecare advice we give as RMTs is to take an Epsom salt bath after (or even before) your massage. So why is this?

Epsom salts are magnesium salts. As we discussed in our previous blog about calcium and magnesium, magnesium helps with 300 biomechanical reactions in your body. Many of these are to do with muscle recovery and nerve health. When you take a bath with Epsom salts, magnesium diffuses through the skin with the water and loads the body with an adequate supply of the mineral to help relieve stiff, sore and painful muscles.

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Ropey Rhomboids

Muscle of the month: Rhomboids

Rhomboid - Ottawa massage blogWeak or torn rhomboids are common these days. Hunching over our computers and mobile devices works against the rhomboids, causing them to lengthen, become weak, and form painful trigger points and muscular tension. As a massage therapist progresses through a client’s back muscles, the rhomboids can feel like taut ropes, snapping back at us.

Actions: Retraction of scapula (squeezing shoulder blades together), downward rotation of scapula, keeping scapula fixed to rib cage.

Common pain culprit: Hunching, poor posture, taut or excessively strong chest muscles.

TRhomboid trp - Ottawa massage bloghere are two separate rhomboids (Major and Minor), though they have the same actions (see above). When the rhomboids are weak and overworked, it is common to see shoulder blade “winging” (the bottom edge of your shoulder blade appears to lift away from your ribs, like a wing), and a dropped shoulder. This is because the affected rhomboids are unable to contract and oppose other muscles that are overpowering them. Over time, the stretched rhomboid muscles develop trigger points, and become quite taut, giving rise to pain and even more dysfunction.

The fix: Improve posture.

Getting rid of the hunch and improving your posture will bring the rhomboids back to their rightful resting position, helping to alleviate pain. Here are a few tricks the RMTs at Body Poets give to clients:

Set an alarm throughout the day to remind you to sit up straight at your computer.

Sit as if there is a string attached to the centre of your head, gently pulling you straight.

Rotate your hands so that your palms are facing out, and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Stretch your pectoral (chest) muscles throughout the day, so they don’t tighten up and overpower the rhomboids. Ask your RMT to show you how to do the “doorway stretch” or other pec stretches.


Summer time Epsom salts

Ah, summer is upon us. Weekends by the lake, lunches on the patio, night time strolls under the stars. Summer is meant for fun!

Ottawa massage blog Epsom salt bag

But alas, summer can also bring us some not-so-fun things. Bug bites, sun burns, and sore muscles cause us woes during the hot months. So, Body Poets wants to help keep your body comfortable and healthy!

Book a massage on a Saturday or Sunday in July or August, and receive a free 3-cup bag of Epsom salts.

Epsom salts are, in fact, magnesium salts, that help hundreds of the body’s daily functions. Many of you already know about their usefulness for achy, sore muscles, but did you know they can be used for much more?

Bee stings: Epsom salts can help bring the stinger closer to the surface for removal, and help reduce the inflammatory process. Soak in a bath, or create a paste with a small bit of water and apply it locally.

Mosquito bites: Similar to the effect it has for bee stings, Epsom salts can decrease the swelling and inflammation caused by a mosquito bite. Create a paste and apply it straight to the bite.

Grimy skin: Remove grime from your skin and face with an Epsom salt exfoliating paste. Mix Epsom salt with baby oil, almond, or olive oil, and rub over the skin to remove dirt, grease, and grime built up during a hot summer day.

Poison Ivy: To soothe the pain, itchiness, and swelling that result from touching poison ivy, take a soak in an Epsom salt bath.

Sunburns: Cool down your sunburn and reduce redness by applying an Epsom salt paste to the burned area, or soak in a cool Epsom salt bath for larger areas.

Garden Epsom - Ottawa massage blogHelp out your garden: Epsom salts aren’t just good for the body; your plants love them too! Feed tomatoes, peppers, roses, and more with a few tablespoons of Epsom salts. Read all about it here:

Get your free bag of Epsom salts on your next weekend visit to Body Poets! Book a massage on any weekend this summer and receive 3 cups free. Visit to book online.

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.