Headaches and Massage

Headaches and Massage

A while back a woman came to see me about generalized neck pain. She had heard about me through a friend of a friend and had some time and thought she would get a massage. The pieces of her pain puzzle started to come together after listening to her complain about her upper back and neck and then observing that she had circled TMJ and HEADACHES on her intake. When I asked her about about these symptoms she dismissed them as chronic. "Oh the doctor said this and that and the chiropractor did this and that and it helped for a day or two but . . ." Her tone implied that she was uncertain as to why I would even be asking her about it, since she was there because of her neck. What I thought was an obvious connection between the jaw, neck and her headaches was completely missing from her frame of mind. I knew that her symptoms are more common than not. Connections that are readily made by therapists are typically just beyond the regular scope of the average person.

So with that in mind. If you are suffering from chronic headaches and also have been given a diagnosis of TMJ and/or bruxism (teeth grinding) and you also have neck pain; it is highly likely that bodywork can help. According to the ACA (American Chiropractic Association) 95 percent of ALL headaches are stress/muscular tension related and not caused by disease of any kind. The Illinois Department of Public Health has published similar numbers. This is not to say that there are no other kinds of headaches or that statistics are anything to put all of your faith in. But it does stand to reason that it is safe to say if most headaches are stress/tension related than there is something that can be done that does not involve taking pain medication. Now factor in the umbrella of TMJ into this tension related scenario. TMJ is a VERY GENERAL DIAGNOSIS which in most cases means the joint that we typically call the jaw is regularly in pain, and that this is caused by some known/unknown trauma.

Now for anatomy. One look at an anatomical drawing of the muscles of mastication (chewing) should make it pretty clear that the muscles involved in chewing are INTRINSICALLY part of the musculature that wraps around the skull. Our primary example of this is the Temporalis muscle which fans back from our temples to the side of our skulls. You can feel the strength of this muscle firing by placing your hands on the side of your head while chewing. Imagine this muscle being as tight as the muscles that you often report as being tight in your back. Imagine it clenching like a clamp. From here the Occipitofrontalis begins its compensation which begins to effect all the attachments of the mastoid process which then signals the muscles of the cervical column (your neck) to begin contracting to hold their ground and then . . . You can see that of course this is oversimplified but it is certainly not a stretch to imagine something like this going on unmitigated for long enough to cause hypertonicity (tightness) tensions, pains. So those of you with what has been diagnosed as TMJ, or those of you that regularly grind your teeth, those with chronic headaches: bodywork can and does help manage and sometimes completely unwinds the pathologies behind what is causing you pain.

If my hands can resolve a conflict of tension in the upper or lower back, they can certainly be tasked to the pain of headache and jaw pain. If you are seeing a bodyworker of any kind, please remember that they can and do offer treatment for these sorts of pain. I'll be the first to admit that massage cannot fix everything, and that the cause and effects of pain are as complicated as the stories of our lives; but before you give up or resign yourself to pain pills, or surgery of any kind, see someone with experience in the therapeutic field of massage.

- Matthew Dalton, LMT