Tips to Keep Tension Headaches at Bay
We’ve all been the victim of a headache at some point in our lives. It is so common in fact that ‘headache’ has slipped into our everyday language. In its most basic term it speaks of the pain felt in and around the head, but how much more often has it been used to describe a stressful (or soon to be stressful) event that causes the headache?
There are many different types of headaches, but by far the most common is the tension headache. The pain is usually even on both sides, often presenting as pressure or a dull band wrapping around the head, and most noticeably felt at the front of the head or right at the base where it meets the neck. The pain is rarely severe, but worsens as the day wears on. Unlike other types of headaches there’s little to no associated symptoms such as nausea or sensitivity to light or sound. Just that distinct awareness of a screeching infant somewhere in the background, or that looming deadline at work you’ve thus far unsuccessfully ignored.
Muscle contraction around the head and neck are often considered the cause for tension headaches. While there is research to suggest this is the case for long term or chronic presentations, episodic or short term headaches are more often the product of psychological stress. For those that have been keeping up with our blogs will know we absolutely advocate running off with the circus and live a stress-free existence. Sadly for the vast majority of us, myself included, that is not exactly a viable solution. So what do to when that tell-tale band starts to constrict around your head, or better yet, how to prevent them from developing in the first place?
Check your eyewear
This might be an obvious tip, but often overlooked as these changes are usually slow. If you wear glasses, and even if you don’t, regular checks will ensure the glasses you have are the most suitable for you at any given time. Incorrect or inappropriate lenses can lead to unnecessary strain on the eyes as well as the head and neck.
Check your workstation
If you’re entangled in phone wires while trying to not spill coffee on your keyboard, only to prematurely end a phone call to your angry boss because you knocked said phone off when you turned in your chair? I’m guessing that’d be little stressful. Having a workstation that’s ergonomically suited to you means you can perform your work smoothly. It also has the added benefit of placing your body in optimal posture to minimise physical stress and fatigue.
Even with a great desk setup, once you’ve been in the same position staring at the same screen for hours on end, your neck and eyes and maybe even head will start to hurt. Our bodies are meant to move. Taking regular breaks will allow the postural muscles (and especially those head and neck muscles) holding you in that position to relax, and the other less used muscles their turn at use. This will reduce tension and fatigue in muscles that contribute to the headaches, and drive circulation around your body.
Your brain operates in much the same fashion. Neurons that have been fixated on a spreadsheet for hours on end will tire and stress out. Even a quick break to freshen up that cup of tea will allow time for overused cranial contents to recuperate.
A good stretch
While we’re on the topic of moving, why not throw in a stretch? Stretching is a great way to combat muscle tension, but taking the time out to stretch (even a quick 2 minute stretch) will give your brain that time-out it so deserves.
A simple and effective neck stretch can be performed while sitting at your desk. Simply sit on one hand (say your right), then tilt your head to the other side (that’d be your left). Imagine trying to bring your ear to tough your shoulder. You can accentuate that stretch by gentling pulling your head closer to your shoulder with your free hand. Remember to be gentle. Hold that for at least 30 seconds, then swap sides and repeat.
Manage your stress
As mentioned psychological stress is the main contributor to tension headaches. Finding ways of managing your stress levels will help mitigate the eventual build-up of stress into headache proportions.
Circus recruitment aside, there are many strategies that can help the busy worker manage their stress better, even for you. Meditation and mindfulness practices are leading the way on that front. Apps are now available to guide you through a meditation sequence to better prepare you for your day, or help bring you back from the brink of that stress abyss. These guides come in varying durations, so even if you only have a few short minutes, or a little bit longer, there will be an option that could suit your needs.
Then of course there’s regular exercise, a clean and balanced diet, lots of fresh air, wholesome hobbies and social interactions, and quality sleep. Easy right?
Hopefully there’s been at least one strategy mentioned that can help you with tension headaches. But everyone is different and sometimes broad brushed strategies may not suit you. If you’re concerned by your headaches, feel free to book in with one of our friendly osteopaths here at Southside Wellbeing, and see how you could benefit from an individualised approach.
Dr Jason Lee is a practicing Osteopath at Southside Wellbeing in Gardenvale. He is available for further advice on headaches and other musculo-musculoskeletal conditions should you wish to address cause of symptoms and improve your health. Jason is focused on getting his patients back to doing the things they love through Osteopathic treatment, exercise rehabilitation and other lifestyle advice.
Appointments can be made online or call us on 95306449.