For the last post in my Naturally Frugal Health Week series, I want to help so many headache sufferers out there. I have suffered from headaches for all of my adult life. Headaches that would go on for days, fueled by a combination of TMJ issues, weak back muscles, poor posture and a lingering whiplash injury after a car accident twelve years ago. I’d get these awful headaches that would start with an ache in my jaw or my back, and then suddenly there was pain all the way from my eye around my head, down my neck and into my back. They’d start and last for three or four days at a time, and often repeat the next week on the other side of my body. This would happen at least once or twice a month–which means I was in pain a LOT. I’d been prescribed 800 mg of Ibuprofen which would take the edge off of the headaches, but they’d never be cured. Once or twice a year I’d save up and visit a masseuse, who would release the muscles causing the headaches, and I’d be well again, for a month or so. But then it would all start again. I was miserable.
Then one day a young masseuse decided to give me some tips–she shared with me things I can do here at home to release the muscle spasms myself. I have found this works 95% of the time. Sometimes it works on its own. Sometimes it is enough to open up the muscles to allow 200 mg of Ibuprofen to work its magic. While I am definitely inclined towards using natural methods, sometimes medicines are necessary. I’m pleased that I’ve been able to greatly reduce my dosage. So many of us deal with these headaches–either from stress, or weak muscles, or any number of reasons. Rebound headaches are the worst, and are frequent unless you learn to get to the source of the headache. Bear with me, I’m going to try to explain to you what she taught me, as best as I can.
1. Start with the jaw. A lot of headaches start because of stress. We clench our jaw or grind our teeth while stressed, which puts pressure on the muscles in the jaw and the neck. So lets start here first.
- Take your thumb and run it along your jaw, from your earlobe to your chin. Press gently but firmly, and see if any sore spots show up. If so, massage there gently. These are small muscles, so gentle pressure is best.
- Underneath your jaw, towards the front of your neck, just below the ear (see the photo), rub your thumb down that muscle in your neck. You may be surprised to find a very tense muscle, or even pain when you do this. A LOT of our stress gets held in these muscles. My masseuse would find the sore spot and press in with their thumb firmly to help the muscle release. I do the same, only I don’t have their strength, so I do it a few times. I will find that sore spot and press in, hold for 20-30 seconds, and deep breathe through the whole thing. Release, work on something else, and then come back. Allow the muscles time to heal a bit between rubbing on them.
- Repeat with the muscles on the other side of the neck. One of the things I’ve learned from masseuses I know is that if you have muscle pain on one side, then the other side is compensating and therefore you likely have pain there as well–or will soon. So work on both sides when doing this.
2. Let’s move on to the back. For this you will need a hard ball, tennis ball sized or smaller. I use a ping pong ball, but those medium sized rubber balls work as well.
- Stand up against a wall and drop the ball between the wall and your back. Starting down around the lower shoulder blade, press into the ball and roll it around with your back until you find the spot where the muscle is tight. Roll against this in a circular pattern for 20-30 seconds, then move away and rub further up the muscle in the back. It is okay if you need to go back and repeat this step. Just make sure to stop and let the muscle repair itself a bit in between rubbings.
- Roll the ball up the muscle just to the side of the spine, between the shoulder blade and the spine. (Not the spine itself!) Roll the ball in circles where you find knots.
- Repeat this as necessary in the upper shoulder muscles as well.
Now normally I can feel the muscles releasing as I do this. I will feel things loosening in my neck and up into my eyes. But it won’t go away completely right then and there. The majority of the pain disappears, but it can take a few minutes for your body and the muscles to fully respond. Allow them time to do so. I usually will lay down and practice deep breathing. Oxygen helps the muscles release and repair themselves. After 5-10 minutes, my headache is usually gone!
One other method I use to keep headaches at bay is a regular practice of Kundalini yoga routines for the shoulders and neck. I find that these moves help release tension as it builds, plus builds the strength of the muscles. Since beginning these routines I have found my headaches have virtually disappeared. When I stop doing the exercises, my headaches return. This video is a little silly with the dancing and whatnot, but the two moves shown in the video are excellent for releasing tension and knots that are developing in your shoulders and neck.
I hope this helps someone else escape pain like it did for me!