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By Matthew Snow, L.M.T

10267775_543699915750862_6660928929361125493_nYou know the feeling. A dull ache at the back of your head that seems connected to your eye forcing your eye half closed. All you want to do is lay down and sleep off your throbbing headache.

The people conversing and laughing are totally unaware that your head is splitting. You try rubbing your temples because somewhere you read that can help headaches.

In desparation you see your doctor or neurologist and have tests only to find out you have tension headaches.

They give you medicine which mildly helps and they tell you to reduce your stress,  but you still get headaches. And they give you no other treatment options.

Great. Now what?

There is hope for those of you suffering from tension headaches. Massage therapy is an extremely effective treatment for tension headaches.

What Are Tension Headaches?

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and can be unbearable to the point that you think you have a migraine headache.

Tension headaches are caused by muscular tension. Muscles create a pulling force(that’s tension) to create movement, stop movement (like holding a bag on the shoulder,) or to slow movement down (lowering your coffee cup on the table.)

The most commonly involved muscles are muscles of the upper back, neck, and shoulders.

A common cause of tension headaches happens when the head, neck, and trunk are too far forward. This puts stress on the spinal joints and puts pressure on the nerves and blood vessels as they exit the head.

This also forces your muscles to work hard against gravity. As the muscles work to hold you up they create waste that is irritating to the nerves in the area.

Common activities that create muscle tension in the neck and shoulders are:

  • Sitting at a computer with slumped shoulders and head forward
  • Leaning back against a chair
  • Crimping a phone between the ear and shoulder
  • Weight lifting that targets muscles of the upper shoulder and upper back
  • Looking down while reading
  • Carrying a back pack or purse
  • Holding heavy items in the arms

How Massage Therapy Helps

Massage aimed at reducing tension and increasing blood flow to the muscles of the upper back greatly helps tension headaches.

trapezius trpt

Trigger points in the upper trapezius can cause headaches. A slumped shouldered posture puts tension on the trapezius to hold up the head, neck, trunk, and shoulders.


A side view of the trapezius accentuates the stress placed on it during forward head postures.

splenius trpt

Splenius cervicis trigger point refers pain to the back of the head to the eye.



The sternocliedomastoid muscle is stressed as the neck is forward on the shoulders and the head tilts back on the neck. This muscle is often overlooked in tension headaches and can be a major contributor to tension headaches.















Massage therapy helps tension headaches by increasing circulation to your muscles and releasing chronic muscle tension. It also circulates out the muscle waste irritating the area.

The massage therapist can stretch the tight muscles after massaging the area to help release pressure off the joints. This also helps your muscles reset their length.

You can help to prevent tension headaches by adding a self massage routine to reduce tension in the muscles. This is very important after spending all day at the computer and after exercise that involves the neck and shoulders. Here is a link for some self massage ideas:

You should also add a stretching routine for the upper back, chest, and neck.

Practice an upright posture. This will help strengthen the muscles of your upper back and head and neck while also reducing overload on your muscles.

Also limit carrying backpacks on shoulder. Purses or commuter bags you can strap across your body.

The End of Aspirin

Many sufferers of tension headaches have found relief with massage. Pain relievers can be good for headaches that occur once in awhile. But for headaches that occur more frequently and don’t go away massage is very effective as it treats the soft tissues that cause the tension headaches.


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matt-squareMatthew Snow is a Licensed Massage Therapist in Cos Cob, CT. If you would like to schedule or make an appointment call (203) 936-6379 or email