If you suffer from frequent headaches, you probably dread the stress of the holidays, the winter weather, and the bombardment of pain-producing stimuli and allergens.
According to the National Headache Foundation, over 45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches, and there are over 150 different categories of headache established. The largest percentage of people, well over 28 million, have recurring migraines. Tension headaches, sinus headaches, and combination headaches are other common forms of headache that can be brought on by the holidays.
Massage has been shown to help decrease and even eliminate headaches. In a study conducted by the American Massage Association, "massage therapy recipients exhibited fewer migraines and better sleep quality during the weeks they received massage, and the three weeks following, than did participants that did not receive massage therapy" (Source: American Massage Therapy Association).
There are several ways massage helps the headache sufferer, and first among these is stress relief and muscle relaxation. Swedish massage, by far the most popular type of massage for relaxation, provides overall stress relief by helping the body quiet the "flight or flight" response and release endorphins, the body's natural pain killers, into the blood stream. It also improves circulation of the blood and lymph and helps realign structural imbalances.
Pressure during a Swedish massage can vary from light to deep. Light touch breaks up superficial fascial adhesions and can easily be combined with deeper, more specific trigger point therapy to release taut bands in the muscles that refer pain from other parts of the body to the head. Indeed, trigger points in the muscles of the head and neck are major causes of chronic headache pain.
Neuromuscular Therapy specifically focuses on the hyper-irritable trigger points. Trigger points occur when the muscle seeks to avoid pain from an injury. This muscle memory can produce unexpected pain years after an injury has occurred, especially during times of physical and emotional stress. A trigger point causes the muscle in which it resides to shorten, thus limiting the muscle's mobility. Like a sweater with a picked thread that warps the shape of an entire garment, the trigger point can cause pain far beyond its immediate location.
Another modality that studies have shown to be effective against headache is Craniosacral Therapy. CST improves the flow of cerebral spinal fluid and blood to the cranium, easing the vascular constrictions that cause migraines and cluster headaches and allowing the bones and tissues of the face and head to realign. Considered to be a deep tissue modality, CST is nevertheless very gentle with no more than five grams of pressure. CST normalizes the autonomic nervous system. It effectively mobilizes the membrane system within the head, taking pressure off either the constriction in the blood vessel that is causing the headache or the nerve that is controlling the blood vessel. As an effective stress reducer, it is particularly effective with headaches that are precipitated or triggered by stress.
Sinus massage can open the sinuses and is often combined with acupressure massage and reflexology to drain the pressure that causes sinus headaches. Often using essential oils such as eucalyptus and peppermint or special sinus blends like Sunbreeze balm, this relaxing technique can stop sinus headaches in their tracks. Sinus massage with lymphatic drainage is another, more intense form of sinus massage and provides at least and hour of attention to the sinuses alone.
Since temporomandibular joint dysfunction can also cause headaches, the specific intraoral techniques used to release the muscles and bones of the jaw can also be effective in treating headache pain.
One word of warning is in order. If you are experiencing fever, chills, or any type of infection, massage is not recommended. Because massage flushes the lymph and increases circulation, it could also spread infection and make you sicker. Although you may hope that a massage will alleviate your symptoms, if you are sick, you should wait until you have gone 48 hours without a fever or infection before getting a massage.
To read more about headaches and massage and for links to other expert articles, please visit our blog.
The regular cost for a one hour massage session at at Suzanne's office at Body Balance II Therapeutic Massage in Hickory, NC, is $60 (excluding Hot Stones or Raindrop Therapy). To schedule your massage session, please call Suzanne at 828-315-9900. You can also buy gift certificates online.
During the holidays, it is easy to overdo and get stressed so that we find ourselves short-tempered and worn-out from all the hustle and bustle.
The following tips can help you set boundaries and enjoy this special season more fully:
- Delegate. You don't have to do everything yourself, and you may find that moments of shared responsibility lead to a closeness with coworkers, friends and family that is far more rewarding than the sacrifice you make when you do it all yourself.
- Take a "self-care break", even if is is only for a few minutes. Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes for a minute. Visualize a clear, open feeling in the center of your being and allow yourself to feel gratitude for having this moment to slow down.
- Volunteer. In this time of economic hardship, it is easy to get depressed. Yet, it is really true that we feel better when we share ourselves with others, and by taking the focus off ourselves and putting on those who are less fortunate, we make the world a better place in our own personal way.
- Don't take things too seriously. Nobody will remember that the reds of your placemats and candles didn't match or that your casserole was a little burnt around the edges. They will remember how much they laughed and how happy they were to be in your company. Good vibes are contagious.
- Keep your eating and sleeping schedules as regular as possible. The body likes routine. (While you're at it, try to experience food as a sacred and sensual pleasure by eating mindfully and really tasting it.)
- Learn to say no. If say yes when you really want to say no, you may end up feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. Children don't have to have every toy they see on Saturday morning cartoons. On those occasions when you find it's impossible to say no (like Christmas Eve at a difficult relative's home), acknowledge your feelings and let them go rather than letting them fester. Reach out to a sympathetic listener or get professional help if you recognize your accommodation of others is bordering on co-dependency.
- Avoid family conflict. Be careful not to use holiday gatherings as a battleground for unresolved conflicts. Christmas celebrations are not the appropriate times to work things through or to enlist others to be on your side. Rather, it is a time to minimize conflict and to make compromises. You can work things out later when emotions are not so high as they often are at Christmas. Likewise, avoid touchy subjects. For example, if politics sets Uncle Bill on a rampage, don't talk about it. If someone brings up the topic, use distraction and quickly move onto something else to talk about. If things get too heated inside, take a break and go outside. Enjoy the fresh air. Go for a walk, watch the children play, but get out of the conflict for a moment.
- Get a massage. You knew I'd say that, didn't you? But the truth is, it really does relieve stress.
You may have used essential oils for headaches, and chances are that lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus, rosemary, and chamomile are already part of your personal headache arsenal. You might want to add basil, which has been shown to be especially effective against migraine and other stress related headaches, to that list of aromatherapy remedies.
Most people think of basil as the main ingredient in pesto and reach for it as a good herbal addition when cooking Italian dishes.
The essential oil, like the herb, has a number of health benefits. Both are sources of Vitamin A, magnesium, potassium, iron, and calcium. The essential oil is widely known for its ability to treat nausea, indigestion, constipation, motion sickness, and respiratory problems.
Sweet basil has a peppery, sweet scent akin to licorice. It blends well with other oils, and aromatherapists especially like it with citrus oils like bergamot and lemon. It also combines well with lavender, clary sage, eucalyptus, juniper, and clove bud.
Considered a natural nerve tonic with neuro-regulating properties, Basil essential oil is an effective treatment of nervous disorders and stress-related headaches, migraines and allergies. It clears the mind and relieves intellectual fatigue. Use it in the bath, in a hot compress, in a vaporizer or steam bowl, or mixed with a carrier oil and applied directly on the skin.
Basil essential oil is beneficial to the skin and is a good treatment for itching from bites and stings from honey bees, insects and even snakes. It can be used topically to enhance the luster and tone of dull-looking skin, and it is also used for acne and skin infections.
Basil is a good essential oil to use if you are experiencing respiratory problems. It has been shown to be effective in providing relief from viral infections like cold and influenza and can help diminish the associated fevers. Due to its antibacterial and antispasmodic nature, it is used against asthma, bronchitis, and sinus infections, and even in cases of whooping cough. It can also be used as a mild muscle relaxant.
Inhaling basil and peppermint together may provide quick relief from hot flashes. Applied in a hot compress, it can relieve menstrual cramps, flatulence and bloating, and chronic constipation.
There are few contraindications for basil, but like other essential oils, you should not use basil if you are pregnant or epileptic.
"Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful."
~Norman Vincent Peale
"At Christmas, all roads lead home."
"He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree."
~Roy L. Smith
"What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace."
~Agnes M. Pharo
"Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles."
"My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?"
"As we struggle with shopping lists and invitations, compounded by December's bad weather, it is good to be reminded that there are people in our lives who are worth this aggravation, and people to whom we are worth the same."
~Donald E. Westlake
Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.
"May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!"