Phantom Head Pain

Headaches is one of the most common reasons for patients consulting a doctor. Whilst it is of course important to investigate any reasons for concern with investigations such as scans* and blood test, *especially if there has been any trauma involved, in most case of (non traumatic) headaches nothing will be found to wrong with the patients head. And if migraines and Rheumatoid conditions such as “Fibromyalgia”, and Polymyalgia Rheumatica” have been ruled out, a common diagnosis will be “tension headaches” or “tension headache syndrome”.

This can be reassuring but at the same time frustrating if a precise cause and therefore a cure for the patients pain is not identified.

For many such patients the only thing they are offered to manage their “tension headaches” is repeat prescriptions of pain killer and or anti-inflammatories.

The problem with this all too common scenario is that a diagnosis of “tension headaches” is far too vague a diagnosis, at least for my liking! This is a bit like having fuel leak in your car and being told you have “fuel leak syndrome”. If your car was leaking fuel the mechanic would likely identify exactly where the leak was coming from and fix it.

For patients with “tension headaches” they will often be told the tension is due to stress. Whilst stress can and very often does play it's part, there will usually be a precise area of tension, knotted muscle or “Trigger Point” causing the headaches.

The diagram your can see above illustrates one of the most common Trigger Points that cause “Tension Headaches”. The trigger point develops in the neck / shoulder muscle called Trapezius and can cause “referred” or phantom pain to occur in the head, jaw and even the eye. If this sounds like “your pain” you can test this by digging the crook of a walking stick into the area shown with the X, or have a partner firmly press their thumb in. You may need to feel around for the exact spot but once you have it, press firmly for up to 15 seconds, if this accentuates your typical pain then you have likely found the precise cause or at least one of the trigger points causing your headaches.

It is important to figure out how and why you may be have developed knots in this particular muscle, perhaps your are shrugging your shoulders to much or have “forward head carriage”. However rather than relying on medication a far better way of keeping your headaches at bay would be to use firm acupressure over this point for up to 2 minutes (until you can feel the referred pain reducing slightly). The first time this will likely leave you feeling a little bruised in the area the next day. Wait a few day for the bruised feeling to subside, then repeat the procedure again, aiming to do this once or twice per week for several weeks in a row. You should then find the tension headaches becoming less and less intense and less and less frequent.

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