What can you do to help your tension type headaches?

Uncategorized Feb 18, 2021

Do you experience headaches through the front of your head, the sides of your head and the back of your head? Does it feel like your head is being squeezed so tight that it could burst?

Chances are most of us have experienced a tension headache or a suboccipital headache at some stage in our lives. These headaches are a very common presentation to the clinic so we’re going to give you a bit of information about them and how you can help manage them at home. 


The main causative factor for these headaches and migraines is the top joints in your neck, C0-3. There are a lot of very strong muscles that connect through the neck and shoulders that when in spasm, can interfere with the vertebrae’s movement and cause them to get ‘stuck’. 


Suboccipital and tension headaches can be influenced by a lot of things. The first, and perhaps the most important thing, is posture. When we look down for extended periods of time when looking at phones, laptops and reading books, the muscles in the top of our necks can get irritated. This can cause the joints to become irritated, and lead to subsequent headaches. We want to be aiming to keep our heads up and aim for a gentle elongation of the spine as much as we can. This might require keeping phones and books up at eye level or even elevating your desktop so that you are not looking down to use screens. 


Posture can also extend to sleeping posture. Choosing the right pillow for your neck is very important for sleeping posture, and everyone's preference will be different. Sleeping on your stomach is not recommended, as you are spending extended periods of time with your neck in full rotation, which can irritate both the muscles and joints of your neck. Sleeping on your back or your side is preferable for headache and migraine sufferers. For side sleepers, a quick check of your pillow to test if it is the right size for you is recommended. Everyone has a different level of broadness to their shoulders, so therefore everyone's pillow height may be different. To do this self assessment, stand with one shoulder against the wall. Place your pillow between your head and the wall and lean your head onto the pillow. If your head is tilting significantly toward the wall it means the pillow is too small, or if it is tilting away from the wall this means the pillow is too big. Investing in an adjustable height pillow can be helpful, as you can adjust as the pillow loses its firmness over time. 


Another reason why you may be getting these suboccipital or tension headaches may be from your jaw. Your jaw holds a lot of tension from the day - every time you clench your jaw, the muscles connecting to it contract. Lots of people unconsciously clench their jaws when they are stressed, or clench or grind their teeth during the night. Wearing splints at night works like a protective barrier and will help to maintain the integrity of the teeth and gums, but the muscles will still contract when clenched so it is not completely fixing the problem. Being aware of cues for when you may be clenching can help, as well as manual therapy through the jaw musculature. 


There are many things that can be done for tension type headaches and suboccipital headaches and you don’t just have to live with them. If you are sick of suffering with them, give us a call on (03) 9486 7543 today to book in with one of our practitioners to see how we can help you today.


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