Getting a massage for headaches is the solution to a problem most of us have experienced more than once — your day seems to be going along fine, when all of a sudden a headache starts coming on. While it may be tempting to simply pop an over-the- counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and feel better fast, there are better options. Among the clients who come to manual therapists complaining of headaches, the condition is usually not as few and far between as it is for the rest of us. In these cases, it may not be the occasional stressful work day or a reaction to something in one’s environment, such as too-bright light or bothersome fumes, that causes the one-off headache. Instead, and especially in those scenarios where the client is also experiencing pain in the neck and other areas of the upper body as well, there’s a good chance mechanical strain may be to blame for the headache pain.
For this reason, and because headaches can be a fairly common complaint among clients of manual therapists, it is a wise move for practitioners to learn how to perform effective massage for headaches. For Erik Dalton, the creator of the orthopedic massage modality Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques (MAT), the term effective means much more than temporarily soothing a client’s headache pain while he or she is on the table or in the hours that follow a session of manual therapy. Instead, Dalton has developed hands-on techniques that aim to actually address the root cause of headache pain, rather than simply focusing on symptom reduction. There is no doubt that MAT feels great for the client on the table — and offers relief from the pain that is the primary symptom of a headache — but these techniques tend to go further than that. MAT can continue to help the client feel better when he or she is off the therapy table and back out in the real world for long periods of time, often eradicating the problem completely.
Learn MAT Massage for Headaches
In order to learn how to effectively address headache pain in your manual therapy practice, it can help to begin to understand the possible root causes of this issue, when it stems from a place of mechanical strain. For example, many of the headaches experienced by habitual stomach-sleepers have their source in neurovascular tension or compression from mechanical strain. According to Dalton, these folks often present to manual therapists complaining of the sudden inability to turn their head without triggering upper neck and head pain. With training in MAT massage for headaches, practitioners will gain deeper knowledge of how the obiquus capitis inferior (OCI) muscles, which arise from the spinous process of C2 (axis) and insert on the transverse process of C1 (atlas), plays a starring role in this brand of headache.
Essentially, the OCI muscles, with a primary function of rotating the head on the neck, can become overstretched on one side and neurologically shortened on the other, resulting in pain and limited range of motion. When not properly addressed by a well-trained manual therapist, this “atlas wedge” can produce chronic OCI spasm that fixates C1 on C2. Then, when the client attempts to rotate his or her head to the left forcefully, the joint jamming spirals down the line to C2-3, a key neurological center. It is this kind of global understanding of the potential sources of mechanical strain that could be connected to a client’s headaches, or an array of other pain conditions, that allows MAT practitioners to be that much more effective in the delivery of Dalton’s strategic deep tissue and joint mobilization techniques.
Massage for Headaches: MAT Routines
With a solid base of knowledge about the mechanical causes of headaches and other kinds of pain, students who learn from Dalton will be prepared to address mechano-sensitivity in neural structures — a crucial skill, given the fact that the nervous system directs the functioning of the entire body. Within the MAT modality, the hands-on skills used to engage the nervous system include mobilizations for bones attaching to the dura mater. You can catch a glimpse of MAT massage for headaches by viewing various video clips, such as “Deep Tissue Massage and Stretching for Neck Pain,” taken from Dalton’s deep library of CE programs. To learn how to safely apply these techniques, enroll in a MAT home-study CE program like Upper Body or online e-learning class today.
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