Headaches suck, no doubt about it. While there are many types of headaches that exist, tension headaches are the most common.
This is because most of us spend a crazy amount of time in the same 3 or 4 positions. If you think about it closely, you’ll likely agree that these include sitting in a chair, standing, or propelling yourself forward in some fashion.
Add to this the fact that we’re usually looking down at something. Whether that’s your phone, your computer, or paperwork, most of our necks are positioning the same way for the majority of the day.
This alone increases our chances of developing annoying (or even debilitating) tension headaches.
But since the whole “the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone” concept is true, it’s not just our necks that we have to worry about when it comes to tension headaches.
Many of us underutilize our shoulder girdle to an almost insane extent. When we’re driving, typing, writing, or cooking, our arms are extended out in front of us.
Because of this, it ends up being rare that we truly take advantage of all the motions that our shoulder girdle is capable of!
When our shoulders get tight, all the muscles attaches to the upper extremities get tight…and that increases our chances of developing tension headaches even more!
Ok, so here’s the game plan. This email is all about ways to decrease tension headaches when they happen without resorting to things like ibuprofen or tylenol. But it’ll also be about PREVENTING tension headaches from happening in the first place.
Let’s dig in!
Alleviate Tension Headaches:
#1. Bentonite Clay Poultice
This one is a new one for us and we’ve been super happy with how it works! You basically make a “mud” out of bentonite clay. Start by mixing ½ a cup of bentonite clay with ¼ cup of water in a small bowl (but you can play with the proportions). Apply the bentonite clay mud onto an old wash cloth. Lay down somewhere comfortable and place the poultice over your neck and shoulders. After about 15-20 minutes, take off the wash cloth and wipe down the area with a clean towel.
#2. Snow Angel Weighted Stretch
Alex learned this move from a chiropractor and has been using it for years! You start by finding small weights (like 2 lbs) or using something like water bottles. Then lay down on the grounding holding your weighted objects in each hand. With your spine flat on the ground, you make snow angels on the ground by keeping your arms straight and completing the full range of motion from down by your legs all the way up over your head. You’ll likely hear some crackling and grinding…which is ok! If you feel any pain or pinching, ditch the weights and go without; alternatively, making the motion smaller until you’ve worked your way up to the full range of your joints.
#3. Alternating Heat and Ice Packs
Tight muscles are muscles that aren’t getting good blood flow. When there isn’t good blood flow to muscles, toxic byprducts accumulate and can cause pain. Increasing blood flow by alternating application of heat and ice can be a really great way to relieve tension headaches! You can do this by applying a heat pack for 5 minutes and then an ice pack for 5 minutes…and repeating the process for 3 rounds. Alternatively, you can get in the shower and blast your neck and shoulder area with hot and cold water. This is more for the brave at heart 🙂
#4. Apply essential oils
Peppermint and lavender is a mix we really love for tension headache relief. We usually mix 5-8 drops each into a teaspoon of coconut oil. We then apply the mixture to the neck, shoulders, base of the skull, and temples. If you’re a DoTerra fan, we’re big into using their PastTense mixture as a tension headache relief.
Preventing Tension Headaches:
#1. Move in a wider range of motion
We talked above about how stagnation in the upper body (but really even lower body) can be a cause of recurring tension headaches. Since a tight shoulder girdle is a common offending problem, shoulder stretches and strengthening can be a really big help. One of our favorite things is hanging! You can hang from doorways, pull up bars, or even tree branches to strengthen that entire system and increase your range of functional movement. We also love this yoga series for neck and shoulder tension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvbl3vfH56c
#2. Regular Epsom Salt Baths
To loosen up chronically tight muscles and keep things from becoming stagnant, taking epsom salt baths regularly can go a long way. In addition to the hot water, the magnesium in the epsom salts is great for muscle health! Bonus: most people sleep better after an epsom salt bath so you get a two for one kind of deal 🙂
#3. Pay attention to your eyes
This is a part we haven’t talked about yet so far in the this topic! In addition to the neck and shoulders, our eyes play a big role in preventing tension headaches. First things first: make sure you’ve gone to the opthamologist to make sure your prescription or lack there of is up to date. But super importantly is giving your eyes a break from looking up close all the time! Because most of us are looking at stuff up close for most of the day, it’s important to give your eyes a break and look long distance. It’s easiest to encorproate this into when you take movement breaks. Take a walk and take the opportunity to really look at your surroundings. This uses the full range of motion for your eyes (which also have tiny muscles and moving parts!) that need movement to stay health.
#4. Unclench your jaw
Many of us respond to stress by tightening up certain muscles. Besides the neck and shoulders, a lot of people will clench their jaw. Check with yourself regularly to make sure you’re not tightening up those muscles of your face. Puff out your cheeks a couple times, open and close your mouth, and wiggle your tongue around to make sure things are stable mobilized! (Bonus point if you’re ok with doing this in public 🙂 )
There you have it! Your natural tension headache relief plan!
But don’t forget: conventional medicine isn’t the devil. If you need to take some ibuprofen or tylenol when a really wicked tension headache kicks in, go ahead and do it. You don’t get bonus points for letting yourself be in a pain! When we utilize all the resources we have at our disposal, it enriches our lives…not detracts from them.