Naturally Rockford: Tips for relieving tension headaches naturally

BLOOMINGTON, Minn.—According to the National Institutes of Health, tension headaches—characterized by pain or discomfort in the head, scalp or neck, usually associated with muscle tightness in these areas—are one of the most common forms of headache. Symptoms include dull pressure in the head that is worse in the scalp, temples or back of the neck, and is not one-sided. Tension headaches often feel like a tight band or vise on the head, and are often triggered by stress, fatigue, noise or glare. About 45 million Americans suffer from tension headaches.

“Tension headaches are often caused by structural imbalances,” says Link Larson, DC, associate professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minn. “Muscles in the scalp, neck and shoulders get tight, and that sends signals to our brain telling us to stop what we are doing.”

To ease tension headache pain, Dr. Larson, in collaboration with Mark McKenzie, LAc, MaOM, dean of Northwestern’s Minnesota College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, and Dale Healey, DC, dean of Northwestern’s School of Massage Therapy, offers these tips:

Use self-massage to ease muscle tension. Using your fingertips, gently massage the area around your temples, forehead and ears. Press your thumbs lightly into the area at the base of your skull.

Apply an ice pack to the back of your skull and a hot pad to your shoulders. The ice pack will reduce pain while the hot pad will reduce muscle tension.

Use acupressure by pressing your thumb into the fleshy part of your hand between your thumb and your finger. Hold the pressure for 20 seconds. Repeat five times as needed.

Take 40-80 milligrams of white willow bark or one or two capsules of valerian. White willow bark has a pain-reducing effect, and valerian is a natural muscle relaxant.

Make a compress of warm water and five drops of essential oils—lavender or peppermint work well to reduce tension. Place the compress across your forehead or the back of your neck.

Use meditation to relax and focus.

Consider seeking treatment from a doctor of chiropractic, a licensed acupuncturist, or a licensed massage therapeutic therapist. “Chiropractic treatments have historically been beneficial in relieving tension headaches,” says Dr. Larson.

He adds that while there are many ways to alleviate tension headache pain at home, people suffering from severe or chronic headaches should see a health care provider.

For additional resources about treating headaches, visit, a Web site focusing on natural approaches to health and wellness hosted by Northwestern Health Sciences University.

from the March 28-April 3, 2007, issue

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