If you stub your toe, you’re pretty certain what caused the pain – crashing your foot into the bed post. But headaches are different. It is seldom clear exactly what causes them. Of course, those of us who get them regularly become adept at identifying a headache caused from stress versus a headache caused by dehydration versus any number of other headaches. By some accounts, there are more than 200 types of headaches, so you can imagine that the exact cause of any one of them can be a mystery. That’s why the medical community calls headaches a “non-specific symptom.” That is, they can have many possible causes.
Part of the mystery lies in the fact that the skull and everything within it and surrounding it is vastly complex. Remember that the brain itself cannot feel pain; it has no pain receptors. But there are nine structures in the skull that do have pain receptors: the cranium, muscles, nerves, arteries, veins, tissues, eyes, ears, and sinuses. All of these things work in concert, responding not only to internal conditions like infections or colds, but also to external conditions like the pressure that sits in the air before a rainstorm.
Wrapping Your Brain Around the Types of Headaches
Primary headaches are typically tension-related, caused by stress, sleep deprivation, hunger, or eyestrain. These kinds of headaches “erupt” because of some sort of strain felt directly in the head. Secondary headaches, however, originate somewhere else. They might be the result of muscle tension around the neck. If you grind your teeth at night, you might have woken up with one of these headaches. People who “carry their stress” in their neck or shoulders might also experience secondary headaches as their tight muscles pull down on the tissue around the skull.
Of course, many of us are familiar with these types of headaches. But other types can indicate that something more dangerous is happening. If a headache suddenly develops (called a thunderclap headache) or if you feel a type of headache that you’ve never had before (especially if you’re over 50 years old), then call a doctor. Those could be signs of a stroke. But here, I’m more interested in the headaches that can be calmed by massage.
Better Than Aspirin
I said earlier that headaches can have many possible causes. They can also have many possible treatments. And one of them, as you might have guessed, is massage. It can help relieve the irritating ailment in two ways. First, of course, are the actual hand-to-skull strokes. Skull massage brings blood to your head, relaxing and nourishing the muscle that might be contributing to a primary headache. If your pain is caused by tight neck or shoulder muscles tugging at your head, then massage can also work to relax those areas.
And don’t underestimate the relaxation that underlies massage. A dimly lit room, soothing candles and scents, relaxing music, and the mere fact that you’re taking time out of your day to take care of yourself all contribute to an overall feeling of well being. It’s the perfect way to banish most any headache!