3 expert-approved ways to get rid of nasty tension headaches

Tried paracetamol and a dark room to deal with your headaches to no avail? You need to try these muscle relief techniques from osteopath Anisha Joshi.

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Headaches can have negative effects on your life, from your mood to your overall health, especially if you experience them regularly. Realising you have a headache coming on is a feeling so many of us dread; turning the lights off for an evening spent sitting in the dark or digging out paracetamol to try and hold off the pain.

There are various types of headaches but the most common type, according to the NHS, is a tension-type headache. This is a constant ache affecting both sides of the head. It can also materialise in the neck and behind the eyes. Tension headaches can be caused by stress, anxiety, squinting and poor posture, amongst other things, and they are most common in adults, particularly women, who are more prone to them than men.  

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Osteopath, Anisha Joshi, has many clients who deal with tension headaches. She explains that tight muscles and joints are often at the root of this kind of pain. An increase in working from home over the last year has meant more people are dealing with this kind of muscle tension mostly because of bad posture and looking at screens.

Anisha uses various osteopathic methods to help people deal with tension headaches. Here she shares some techniques you can use at home to help manage these aches and pains in your head. 

Lift up your screen

“Looking down at a screen can increase the amount of weight that goes through the neck,” says Anisha. “The average weight of a head is about the same as a 5kg kettlebell and for every gradient you look down, it doubles the weight of your head.”

This increases the amount of pressure going through your neck and shoulders, impeding the spinal nerve and initiating a headache. If you spend a lot of your day looking at a screen, the first step to deal with tension headaches should be to lift up your screen so it’s in line with your eyes. This ensures you’re putting minimal pressure on your neck muscles.

Anisha also recommends bringing your screen closer towards you to make sure you’re sitting at the very back of your chair. 

Keep moving throughout the day

Sitting still can cause your muscles to tense up, whether you’re sitting on the couch all day or working from home at your kitchen table. 

“People often underestimate how much they move when they’re in an in-person meeting,” Anisha says. “On Zoom, it’s like you’re driving on the motorway – you’re looking straight ahead.”

Anisha recommends doing gentle neck stretches throughout the day. She suggests gently moving your head from side to side, then up and down. 

You can also apply a warm hot water bottle to your neck to help relax any tight muscles. 

Anisha Joshi shows how to move your head from side-to-side to relieve tension.

Try self-massage techniques

As well as lifestyle changes that can help relax the muscles that cause tension headaches, Anisha recommends trying self-massage techniques. You can use these methods as a form of treatment, as well as a preventative measure.

The simple neck massage

A simple self-massage of the neck can have serious benefits for your posture and help to prevent tension headaches. 

“Cup your head with both hands and use your fingers to gently massage the muscles at the back and at the side of your neck,” Anisha says. “Keep the movements gentle and don’t press too hard.”

The figure of eight neck massage

The neck is made up of lots of delicate muscles so it’s crucial to make sure you’re massaging it safely. Anisha recommends a figure of eight movement, which is a safe technique.

“Interlace your fingers behind your head, bring your elbows together and do a figure of eight movement with your elbows,” she says. This will help to mobilise your neck.

Trigger ball techniques

Anisha recommends using a trigger ball (a soft massage ball) to help massage your neck and head muscles. “Use it up and down against a wall on your shoulder muscles,” she says, explaining that because your shoulder muscles attach to the joints in your head they might cause tension headaches. 

Use a trigger ball to help manage muscle pain and tension headaches.

You can follow Anisha on Instagram for more osteopathy advice and self-massage techniques to try at home. Find more expert-led tutorials by signing up to The Curiosity Academy newsletter. 

Images: Getty, Anisha Joshi. 

  • Anisha Joshi, osteopath

    Anisha Joshi is an award-winning osteopath.

    Anisha Joshi is an award-winning osteopath and clinic owner who has built a following of over 15,000 on Instagram, where she shares her experiences of osteopathic treatment.

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