I really enjoy working with clients who are plagued with frequent headaches or migraines. I know how debilitating this condition can be, and when someone is nursing an aching head, it seems to dull all aspects of life. It really is a joy to watch a person sink into relaxation as the pain begins to dissipate. Frown lines are erased and an expression of serenity emerges. The vast majority of clients I see while working at a spa are visiting the area, and it is unlikely that I will see them again. I don’t really know, or even expect, that the results they experience are permanent, but offering temporary relief and the hope that change is possible is a gift in and of itself.
Triggers for headaches are numerous. Dehydration is perhaps the #1 culprit, and obviously water is the cure. However, massage can still be of use in these cases by stimulating the release of toxins and relaxing tense muscles that build up due to the pain. Hormonal imbalance is another frequent contributor to headaches. Once again, I believe bodywork can be helpful through detoxification (a healthy liver can better clean the blood of excess hormones) and deep relaxation can counterbalance the excess of adrenaline and cortisol many people experience in their daily lives. Often clients claim stress itself is the source of their headache problems. This is where elevating relaxing massage to the level of health care maintenance can be of true benefit. Staying ahead of the stress is the most effective way I know of to prevent headaches (along with drinking plenty of water and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption).
Migraines seem to be a bit more mysterious than headaches. Science is still trying to understand this incapacitating condition. Many people become aware of hormones or certain foods as triggers, and are able to utilize this knowledge to prevent migraines. Others seem to be at the mercy of unpredictable onset. I still believe that whatever the actual trigger may be, lowering overall stress can help prevent migraines, or at least diminish the frequency, intensity, and duration of them. It seems the body can handle a certain level of stress, and if people are able to keep their stress below the threshold, they have a much better chance of avoiding this painful condition.
I’ve found that about 90% of my clients who complain of frequent headaches or migraines have congestion and tension held in their faces and heads. No big surprise there. I spend a good deal of time exploring the scalp for trigger points and stuck fascia and almost always am rewarded with a deep breath or sigh. Often times I find a hot mess in the small muscles at the base of the skull which, when given the opportunity, unwind themselves spontaneously. Tension around the temples and the jaw is very common, along with extreme tightness in the neck and upper shoulders. It’s not difficult to find the spots that need attention, but the unhurried pace, patience, diligence, and gentleness necessary to achieve release are necessary qualities that are easy to overlook.
My advise to anyone who suffers from frequent headaches or migraines is pretty basic. It involves lifestyle changes that eliminate, or at least manage, the contributing causes. Hydration, posture, exercise, stretching, and finding outlets to release stress and anger are the obvious solutions for many clients. Sometimes a change in diet is helpful when allergies are the trigger. Fresh air and avoiding chemicals which are all too prevalent in household products may also help.
I find it’s much more effective and empowering to teach clients how to prevent pain than causing them to rely on bodywork as the sole remedy. Of course, massage is a tremendous tool that belongs in the overall program. Reiki is super-effective too, especially when there is an emotional, mental, or spiritual contribution. (And there almost always is, but that is another topic altogether…) Pain is an indication that something is out of balance. I encourage people to address the imbalance at its source rather than struggling to alleviate the symptoms.