Monday, 2 July 2012

Treating neck ache and tension headaches

Have you ever noticed that sometimes the same experience keeps repeating, as if the universe wants you to take notice of something? Several times in the past couple of weeks I've treated clients with tightness in their necks that transfers into the scalp and causes headaches. This has prompted me to explain a bit about why this happens, and a simple technique you can use when it does.

Lucinda Cracknell Massage tension headache
Here's "the science bit"
At the back of your skull there's a ridge of bone called the occipital ridge. You can feel it by putting your finger on the back of your head and running it downwards until you feel it dip onto softer tissue. The ridge is most obvious just to the side of the central line, but runs across from ear to ear, just above the hairline.

This ridge is an area for muscle attachment. Muscles from the neck, and even the shoulder, run up and attach to it, and a band of muscle and connective tissue runs from here, over the top of the head, to the forehead. Any tension in the neck and upper back, whether from computer work, holding stress in the shoulders, an injury, or anything else, is therefore transmitted to the occipital area. From here it can pull on the tissue over the head all the way to the forehead. This is why a tight neck can cause tension headaches.

It is also why, during massage, we work on the soft tissue at the occipital ridge. This is true of Deep Tissue Massage, Indian Head Massage, Thai Massage; there's even an occipital move in Pulsing.

By manipulating the tissue, we can often release contraction in the neck and shoulder muscles, and in the scalp. This can ease any pain and discomfort.

You can also do this yourself, if your neck is tight or you feel a headache coming on.

  • Put your index and middle fingers together, and place the tips at the back of your head, on the occipital ridge, pointing inwards.
    • If you have long hair, it's easier to work from under your hair, and with it loose - tying hair up tightly can also contribute to headaches.
  • Make a few small circles with your finger tips, then move them outwards a bit, still on the ridge, and repeat.
    • Resist the temptation to press hard - just firm enough to move the skin, rather than just the hair, is fine.
  • Continue until you get to the corner of the ridge under the ear; you can then make circles back towards the centre, or slide your fingers back and work outwards again.
  • You can also do one side at a time if it's more comfortable, but try not to twist your head too much.

Of course, if you have an underlying issue elsewhere that's causing the problem, this technique won't address that. However, easing the tightness in the occipital area may relieve the discomfort until you're able to take more permanent steps, whether that's taking more frequent breaks from the computer, or getting a massage to release tension in the muscles throughout the neck, shoulders and upper back.

There's more about Lucinda's massage at

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