Can a Massage Help Tension Headaches? Benefits and How-To

Can a Massage Help Tension Headaches? Benefits and How-To

Alicia Schultz Alicia Schultz
6 minute read

After a stressful day or poor night’s sleep, have you ever experienced a headache that felt like a tight band squeezing around your head? If so, you might’ve had a tension-type headache (TTH). 

When you have a TTH, you might have the urge to rub your eyes, temples, or neck. But how much does it really help? Can a massage help tension headaches —  and if so, which techniques can bring you the most relief?

Here’s what to know about massage for tension headaches, including the benefits and how to get started.

Can a Massage Help Tension Headaches? The Benefits

When a headache arises from stress or muscle tension, a good massage really can help. In fact, one study showed that regular massage reduced the number of tension headaches that chronic headache sufferers experienced each week. But how exactly does it work? 

Massage Breaks Up Muscle Tension

Many people unknowingly tense up their neck and shoulders all day long, and too much of this tension can lead to headaches. The good news is that a massage could help you loosen up your muscles and relieve the pain around your head, neck, and scalp.

What Muscles Can Cause Tension Headaches?

Tight muscles in the shoulders, neck, and head are often the culprits behind TTH pain. This is why you might have the natural urge to rub your temples or neck when you feel a headache coming on.

Some specific muscles that can lead to tension headaches include:

  • Trapezius muscles. These are long, wide muscles that extend from the neck to your shoulders, and all the way down to your mid-back. They help you move your neck, head, arms, and shoulders. And because they’re so active, they can hold a ton of your day-to-day stress.
  • Suboccipital muscles. These muscles are found at the base of your skull, near the top of your neck. One study found that trigger points (or knots) in this region may be linked to headache pain. 

A Good Massage Can Alleviate Stress

When you feel emotions like anxiety or stress, it’s natural for your body to go into fight-or-flight mode. But when your body is always on high alert, you’re more likely to suffer from headaches. 

Fortunately, a good massage can ease stress and relax your body. And with lower stress, you might notice less tension in your muscles and fewer tension headaches overall.

How to Get Started

Here are some easy ways to self-massage for tension headaches at home:

Try a Simple Hands-On Technique

This simple routine using your own two hands can help you melt away tension in your head and neck:

  • Start by sitting in a comfortable position. Place your hands behind your head, with your fingertips meeting in the center of your neck.
  • Slowly pull your fingers outward to massage the muscles. Feel free to tip your head slightly forward or backward as you do this — whichever way feels best to you. Repeat the outward motions for a few minutes.
  • Then, use circular motions to gently massage the muscles at the base of your skull. 
  • Continue to move your fingers outward, downward, and in circles. Repeat whichever motions you enjoy most for a few more minutes.
  • Finish by crossing your arms over to either shoulder and lightly kneading or rubbing the trapezius muscles. This step can help you tackle any remaining tension in your shoulders.

Try a Home Massager for Neck and Shoulders

Person using the MedMassager MMB05 to massage neck and shoulder muscles.

If hands-on massage brings you some relief, you might also find it worthwhile to invest in an electric home massage tool. Here’s how to use one when you’re experiencing tension headache-related pain:

  • Turn your device to its lightest pressure setting.
  • Reach up and behind your head to glide the massager across the back of your neck and shoulders. Alternatively, you can ask a partner to help you, or place it between your neck and a high-backed chair.
  • After 60 to 90 seconds of massage, increase the pressure to your desired intensity.
  • Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes, up to several times per day.

TTH Prevention: Posture, Stretching, and Stress Management

If you’re constantly stressed out or your muscles always feel tight, it can help to break up the tension before it becomes a headache. And three ways to do this are to practice better posture, stretch often, and lower your stress levels.

Posture and Stretching

Here are some posture tips for reducing head and neck tension:

  • Be mindful of tension in your shoulders, neck, and upper back. When you notice you’re hunching your shoulders, make it a point to let them naturally fall back into place.
  • Stand straight and tall, with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Try to keep your head aligned with your body.
  • When possible, choose chairs with proper back support.
  • Pay attention to your sleep posture, and consider investing in a good pillow.

In addition, remember to take some time to stretch your neck from side to side and loosen up your shoulders a few times per day. This helps you relax the muscles and break up stress-related tension early on.

Stress Management

Along with posture and stretching, stress management tools can also help you keep muscle tension at bay. Aside from massage, you could try things like:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Dancing
  • Art or music therapy

The Takeaway on Massage and Tension Headaches

When you’re dealing with a tension headache, you might find that a soothing massage is exactly what you need to feel better. It can lower your stress and soothe any achy muscles that are creating tension in your upper body. And best of all, it’s easy to try at home.

With that being said, safety is key. Headaches can stem from a range of conditions, and some are more serious than others. So, be sure to check with your doctor before trying massage therapy.

Once you’ve got the green light, you can visit a spa or start a self-massage routine with therapeutic tools like the MedMassager MMB05

Learn more about how to use it on your neck and shoulders, or view MedMassager’s line of home massage tools today.

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