Have you ever had such a bad headache you just didn’t know what to do? There’s no escaping it, no matter how you sit or lie down or try to support your head. It hurts to distraction: you don’t want to watch TV or read, and surely don’t want to focus your eyes or mind enough to try to follow a conversation or drive a car. No matter what you do it just hurts.
It happens to me on a regular basis, and I hate that. All I really want to do is lie down, cover my eyes (preferably with something cool), and try to sneak off to sleep. Many times, my headache still finds me when I’m sleeping and tries to wake me (often successfully), but at least my whole conscious mind isn’t occupied with pain when I’m asleep. Can you relate?
The human body is an engineering wonder. The way the spine and neck muscles work together to hold up and move the head around is nothing short of miraculous. The cervical spine, that little Jenga-looking stack of bones delicately balances the head—which, by the way, weighs about as much as a bowling ball—rotates from side to side, reaches forward and back and can even tilt in virtually any direction, or nearly any combination thereof.
How does it move? An elaborate web of muscles weaves between the vertebrae (bones of the spine) and then from the skull to the shoulders and somehow knows just which tiny little bone to pull or hold still. Through the center of this cloverleaf of bones and muscles runs a thoroughfare for the spinal cord, from which nerves, some as broad as highways and other as narrow as alleyways, curve and wind through the muscles and out to the extremities.
All this to say when my head hurts, I love a massage. Because when my head hurts so much that it seems like I should rip it off of my neck and shoulders, a massage always brings me some relief. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a Massage Therapist, so obviously I’m extremely biased. On the other hand, I went to school to learn about how the body works. Massage reduces stress and who with a headache doesn’t feel stressed? Massage cues the body to release endorphins, the body’s natural pain reliever. It increases the production of white blood cells, boosting immunity. It calms the nervous system and reduces inflammation.
Think you don’t have time for a massage? Think again. My experience from both sides of the table has been that even 15 minutes can have a huge impact on pain. A short massage also means less (and sometimes no) oil and no need to change clothes.
So, if you’re thinking you’d like to try something natural and effective next time you have a headache, try calling your Massage Therapist. And don’t worry, you can thank me later.
-by Gin Rhodes, LMT