Immediate Relief for Headaches

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When a muscle gets tight enough, it shows up as pain that often isn’t felt at the same location as the muscle.  It can be an intense pain. It’s generally hard to put your finger on the specific spot. I would usually describe it as irritating, aching, dull, diffuse and sometimes, when it’s intense enough as sharp.  

This is where a lot of headaches come from.


The neat part about this kind of tight muscle, referred pain is that it’s so consistent it has been mapped.  There are pain maps that show which pain location corresponds to which tight muscle.


For example, if you get headaches in your temple, right behind your ear or on your forehead right above your eyes you could get immediate relief by stretching or massaging the muscle involved.


The headache areas I just described correspond to a muscle commonly called the SCM  (which stands for sternocleidomastoid after the points where it attaches to the skeleton.)  I’ve drawn an orange circle around it in the picture and highlighted its most notorious pain locations in red.  


If you have a headache that you’re feeling in one of the areas shown (and this is worth trying with any temporal headache even if it doesn’t seem to exactly correspond to the map) you can try both massaging this muscle yourself or stretching it.  I’ve found both approaches will relieve headaches.


To massage the SCM:


First locate the muscle.  It’s quite visible. If you look in a mirror it comes down from either side of your jaw and makes a V with the small end at the base of your throat. If you put your hand on your forehead and press into it the muscle will stand out.


To massage it I’d recommend laying down so the muscle doesn’t have to work to hold your head up.  Now just squeeze the muscle between the flat part of your thumb and the side of your pointer finger.  You can work up and down the length of the muscle and linger on any spots that feel more intense. Be a bit slower and gentler than you’re inclined to be.  That gentleness will help the muscle to relax. Think of it as a living thing and not simply as clay that needs to be remodeled.


To stretch the SCM:


This muscle attaches behind your ear, which means it crosses the pivot point where your head meets your neck.  That means that when it gets shorter it turns your head to the opposite side, away from the muscle that is shortening.  Now you can try a stretch. The simplest stretch is to turn your head toward the side you want to stretch. If you’re having a headache in your right temple, then you would want to turn toward your right side. Once you’ve rotated your head to that side you can try bobbling and tilting it back and forth a bit and seeing if you can find the tightest feeling spots.  Then just wait for a minute for them to feel less tight.


How did that work for you?  Did your headache lessen or go away?  Any questions?

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