Miserable Muscle Number Three – The Temporalis Muscle. This One’s the Clencher

Miserable Muscle Number Three – the Temporalis. This one’s the Clencher Where are the temporalis muscles? Your temporalis muscles are located on your temples. They are a frequent source of throbbing headache pain. They are one of the main muscles that cause headaches. Several of the other main headache muscles, the sternocleidomastoid and the upper …

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Miserable Muscle Number Two – The Upper Trapezius, The Stress Holder

Miserable Muscle Number Two – the Upper Trapezius, the Stress Holder Stress is a major headache trigger Stress is a major triggers for migraines.  The upper trapezius is one of the primary muscles that holds that stress. It is a large muscle that extends from the top of the shoulder up to its attachment on …

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Miserable Muscle Number One; the Sternocleidomastoid. Part Two

Miserable Muscle Number One; the Sternocleidomastoid. Part Two

Headaches and Tight Sternocleidomastoids Go Together

The best time to come to the physical therapy clinic to be treated for a headache is when you have a headache. However, since people cannot manufacture a headache on the spot, I always offer my headache clients the option to call for an immediate appointment if they are having a headache. We can generally bring the pain down dramatically in the half-hour appointment time.

One young lady called the office with a headache she rated at 8-9/10 intensity. She came in that day. She could turn her head to the left 70 degrees on her first visit. 70 degrees neck turning is limited but not terribly so. Generally, I like to see people able to turn their heads at least 80 degrees unless they have had a neck operation or some other condition that limits their neck motion.

On this day, my client arrived with a severe headache, and could only turn her head 50 degrees to the left. She could not turn her neck further to the left because the right sternocleidomastoid muscle was preventing it. The neck motion had been lost with the onset of her headache, without her realizing it. She then used her left hand to massage her tight right sternocleidomastoid which was stopping her neck from turning left. As her neck turned more freely to the left, her headache subsided to a dull ache that she rated at 1-2/10 as her neck turned more freely to the left.

I find many people who initially get their headache better are not careful to keep their necks loose. As the neck slowly stiffens, they open themselves to another headache attack. It does require frequent attention to make sure your neck is able to freely turn. However, the reward for your attention may be an ability for you to stave off the worst of your headaches.

Sternocleidomastoid muscles can increase your jaw problem

A tight sternocleidomastoid muscle can contribute to jaw joint problems. You may have heard of the temporomandibular joint(TMJ).  You cannot open your jaw fully because your temporomandibular joint is stuck. However, I find that many of the people whose jaws are stuck often have tight sternocleidomastoid muscles, usually on the side of the worst jaw pain.  Press on the sternocleidomastoid muscle to gain a few more millimeters of opening.

You may have jaw pain when you bite down on your food.  Bite down at the same time you press the sternocleidomastoid muscle. You can now chew  easier and less painfully as long as you press the sternocleidomastoid. Remove the pressure, and the chewing pain returns.

Methods to Massage the Sternocleidomastoid

Most people use their left hand to reach the right sternocleidomastoid muscle. However, some people have difficulty getting the arm across the chest. Others find their hand strength limits their ability to massage the sternocleidomastoid. Try this other method if the arm crossover technique feels awkward to you. Use your right hand to massage the right sternocleidomastoid muscle in this case.

  • Sit next to your kitchen table, with your right elbow propped on the table, and put a pillow underneath your arm if the table is too low.
  • Turn your neck slightly to the left, with the chin tucked down.
  • Press your right knuckles or thumb on the side of your neck to work your tight right sternocleidomastoid muscle. Make sure you work the part of the muscle up towards your ear. You should feel tenderness in the sternocleidomastoid muscle but no sharp pains! Many people prefer this method and find they reach their sternocleidomastoid muscle easier this way.

 

 

-You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer. Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician.

 

Miserable Muscle Number One; The Sternocleidomastoid. Treatment Part One

Miserable Muscle Number One; the Sternocleidomastoid. Part One

     Do not try to say the name of this muscle, just get control over it.

Muscle spasms can produce major headaches! The answer you need to know is which muscles are causing your headaches? How do you get those muscles to let go and give your head a rest? Once you know which muscles you can target, you can use stretches, head and neck massage and acupressure techniques. You can quiet your headache in anywhere from five to no more than fifteen minutes, without using drugs.

Not all muscles are headache-producers. The sternocleidomastoid muscle is high on your list of likely troublemakers. Do not worry if you cannot say the name if this muscle.  You will learn how to release this muscle, along with your headache, long before you ever learn how to pronounce sternocleidomastoid properly.

Why does it have such a long name?  Well, it is a long muscle.  It runs from the back if the head (mastoid), to the collarbone (cleido) and breastbone (sterno).  It is shaped like an upside-down “Y” where the two branches come together at the side of the neck.  The bad news is that it gets tight and tender very easily, sending a wave of pain through the neck, jaw and to both sides of the forehead.  The good news is that it is easier to reach than many muscles are. Look no further than this muscle to get your headache under control. It is the main cause of many headaches. 

     Are my headaches caused by my neck muscles?

Migraine headaches occur primarily in the area by the eyes, along with the front and side of the head. However, roughly 40% of people with migraines also have pain that is present in the neck, according to a study of 1,283 migraineurs. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1526-4610.2005.05185.x  

I find that when people come in with a headache co-existing with neck pain, the muscles in the neck are generally tight and tender. The sternocleidomastoid muscle is almost always one of the muscles involved in these cases. Stretch and massage your neck muscles! You can either prevent a severe headache episode or bring down the intensity of an existing headache.

You would never think that this sternocleidomastoid muscle on the side of your neck could be responsible for so much of your headache troubles. Put pressure on it or stretch it, and your headache will often fade.

     How do I use the sternocleidomastoid muscle to calm my headaches?

A woman I treated recently had been suffering from migraine headaches for years and was delighted to find that when she put pressure on the upper front third of the sternocleidomastoid muscle her headache faded away in 30 seconds. Her comment was one that I get a lot, which was “Why didn’t anyone ever show me this before?” The sternocleidomastoid massage is an easy treatment, and it is a shame countless people are suffering needlessly.

What is the best approach to do this sternocleidomastoid massage? Focus your attention to the upper half of the sternocleidomastoid muscle by the ear and downwards to the level of the base of your jaw.  The following technique can be used to increase flexibility in a right sternocleidomastoid muscle;

  • Cross your left hand across your chest.
  • Turn your neck to the left as far as you can.  The right sternocleidomastoid muscle will resist your turning your neck to the left.
  • Start putting deep pressure on the muscle, and watch your headache slowly fade. 
  • Hold the pressure for at least 30 to 60 seconds.  Will the point be tender?  Yes, it will be.  Generally, however, where there is smoke, there is fire, and if the point is tender it likely means that a beneficial result is forthcoming.  However, do not put yourself through a lot of pain to release the muscle.  You do not have to feel extreme pain since a pressure that produces medium tenderness is usually enough to get the job done.  Start up by your ear, and move slowly from point to point, as you will find of few of them embedded in the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Slowly the muscle will relax under your finger pressure. Do not go too quickly and just rub your skin.

Why do you cross over with the opposite hand, for instance, using a left hand to reach a right sternocleidomastoid muscle?  Why not just use your right hand to reach to muscle, since it is on the same side of the body?  If you look carefully at the attachments of the muscle, you will see that the sternocleidomastoid also attaches to the collarbone.  If you are using your right hand to reach up to the right sternocleidomastoid muscle, you are in fact tightening the muscle as your right shoulder hunches to reach the muscle.  Your left hand can cross over to massage the muscle without hunching the shoulder.

When I see a person with a headache who is not able to turn their head normally, I find the sternocleidomastoid is usually tight. This decreased neck motion is almost always is a contributor to the headache problem. Many clients have limitations in turning their neck both to the right and the left, with tight muscles on both sides of the neck. Tuck the chin slightly as you do the massage, and do not look up.

     When should I not treat the sternocleidomastoid?

STOP treating the sternocleidomastoid if you feel any dizziness, nausea, extremely sharp pain, or any other unpleasant effect. Make sure you stay on the muscle. Do not stray towards the front of the neck where you will encounter blood vessels and your breathing tube. Focus on the upper half of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. This portion of the muscle is the part that directly affects the headache.  Do not let your hand touch the front part of your neck as you massage the muscle.

     Have you ever tried treating the sternocleidomastoid to help your headaches?

Many people are surprised that treating the sternocleidomastoid relieves their headache pain. People are used to thinking that the source of pain is where the pain is. However, that frequently is not the case. Future blogs will show you how you can treat yourself with points far away from your headache. Check with your healthcare provider to see if treating the sternocleidomastoid muscle can help you with your chronic headaches.

 

 

-You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer. Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician. 

 

     

Mastery over Migraine

The Mastery Over Migraine blog is offered to you to give you medication-free techniques to quickly reduce your migraine headache pain.  I am a physical therapist who is passionate about helping people relieve their suffering. Many people who have been afflicted with headaches for years, even decades, can leave our clinic with a path forward with reduced headaches. I see many people who could have been spared years of misery if they just had knowledge of some conservative methods of treatment, which most people don’t even know exist.

What experience do I have to offer you to get your headaches under control? I have worked with headache specialist and in several Headache Clinics since 2004, and have learned many self-help techniques that reduce headaches on the spot.  I completed a Physical Therapy Doctorate in 2014 with my elective emphasis on headache reduction. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1986 and completed two post-graduate certifications in the late 1990s, one as a Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy practitioner, and the other as an Orthopedic Certified Specialist. I have also learned some acupuncture and acupressure techniques while in China.  I see every week how these pressure points can be used quite efficiently to help headache sufferers.  Indeed, in most cases, if you come into our clinic with a headache, you will leave the appointment with at least half of the headache gone.  You will also learn about simple lifestyle changes that can be used to keep your headaches from escalating. You will achieve a sense of control over your headaches you may have never had before.

I read on blogs about all the struggles people go through with their headaches, and I would like to share many of the techniques that have helped so many people, and I hope they will help you, too. This blog is meant to have readers share their own natural treatments that have been helpful to them. Comments accepted here are meant to be supportive and helpful, and any offensive or demeaning comments about another person’s suffering will be deleted. All comments that are spam and unrelated to the goal of headache reduction will be deleted.

There will also be no pharmaceutical information shared. nor will we be discussing herbal remedies.  There are certainly excellent medications available to help control headaches, and you should always be in close communication with your doctor before you adjust the dosage or frequency of the medications.  The natural techniques I will be sharing must not conflict with any advice your doctor has given.  We will also not be discussing herbal remedies.  Herbal remedies, while useful for some people, should not be taken randomly as they have side effects as well, and should be vetted by your doctor as they may not be right for every person’s medical condition.

My motivation is a simple one. I want to share what I’ve learned in order to help as many people as possible get their headaches better, and in so doing improve the quality of their relationships, work environment, and general daily life.