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Headaches and Trigger Points

Diagram of Trigger Points for Stress Headaches

Prepared for Topics class
by Darby Lee Schlomer

Headaches have been around as long as humans. People have came a long way towards understanding many things that can help the pain associated with headaches. There are many different types of headaches; tension, migraine, secondary, cluster, sinus, organic and many more. Not all can be addressed the same way. For example: Migraine headaches are believed to be caused by changes in the flow of blood in the vessels of the head. You can try a more holistic approach first to see if it helps. When you first feel the onset of a migraine, you could lay down in a quiet darkened room with a cool cloth. Relax your entire body, as you try to fall asleep.

Tension headaches, also known as muscle-contraction, are around 90% of all headaches. For this reason, I'm going to talk mainly about this type of headache. Tension headaches are often caused by muscle tightness, mostly around the neck, shoulders and head area. Some causes of this tension can be physical, like if you have a job that demands you to be continuous. Stress of everyday life, depression, and anxiety is a major factor of tension headaches as well. According to Heath: The Basics (1), recent research indicates that tension headaches may be a product of a more "generic mechanism" in which chemicals deep inside the brain may cause the muscular tension, pain, and suffering often associated with an attack. Things that might trigger the chemical assault may be related to menstruation, lack of sleep, or fasting. A tension headache may cause pain all over the head, pressure, or a feeling of having a tight band around the head. With tension headaches, the pain usually is decided as dull and consistent, although some times can have a throbbing or pounding feeling. Often the pain may continue into the neck and surrounding muscles. These muscles may feel tight, knotted, and uncomfortable. Changing your posture, stretching between constant, continuous work, and reducing stress can help lesson the attack of these types of headaches. The good news is that tension headaches can usually be treated successfully with massage. Another hands-on approach is a good, firm massage, says orthopedic surgeon, David F. Fardon, M.D. (2), author of Free Yourself From Neck Pain and Headaches. More suitable for tension headaches, massaging the head, forehead, neck, and upper shoulders can help flush away pain by restoring blood flow to areas being shortchanged of blood due to tense muscles. Unlike migraines, you can apply heat, instead of cold, to help relieve a tension headache.

While I was researching on massage and how it helps with tension headache, I have found that acupressure and trigger point therapy is mentioned numerous times. Fred D. Sheftell (3) of the New England Center for Headache, Stamford Connecticut commented that a pressing action employs the basic principle of the ancient Chinese art of acupressure, which maintains that pain sometimes is caused by blocked nerve impulses at various key sites throughout the body. Exerting pressure at these sites helps clear the blockage, thus restoring proper "neurological" flow. Areas to try will be: muscle between the thumb and the forefinger; the top of the foot between the big toe and middle toes; outside your shinbone just below your knee; the Achilles tendon at the back of your heel; your temples; two spots at the right and left of your spinal column at the base of your skull at a level even with your earlobes. Sheftlell suggests you put pressure or squeeze on any of these areas, hold for around 20 seconds, release for 10 seconds then repeat 4 more times.

Also known for help with headaches is Trigger-Point Therapy, sometimes referred to as Finger-Pressure Therapy. This is done by applying pressure with your fingers, usually thumbs, to certain areas on the muscles. The book Free Yourself From Headaches(4) states that finger pressure therapy is thought to unblock and balance the energy flow within the body, thereby restoring proper functioning in the organs, glands, and physiological systems.

Deep Tissue and Trigger Points

They also mention application of pressure to points where there is a buildup of crystallized chemical by-products that either cause pain in the area or refer pain to another part of the body. You can also use this technique on yourself. The same pressure points you use on others are the same when you are applying pressure to yourself.

1. Health: The Basics, 2nd Ed. Rebecca J. Donatelle / Lorraine G. Davis. 1997; Allyn& Bacon.
Headaches: 47 ways to Stop the Pain. Charles B. Inlander/ Porter Shimer. 1995;Walker Publishing Co.
Free Yourself From Headaches. Dr, Jan Stromfeld, D.C./ Anita Weil. 1989;Jan Stromfeld and Anita Weil


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