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Trigger Points that Causes Headache

Headache is one of the most common discomforts that we experience in our daily lives which can affect our daily production, focus and physical level. Why do we get them and is all headache the same? There are multiple reasons of headache and not all headache is the same. We will focus on the headaches that caused by trigger points in our neck and shoulder muscles and how to treat it.


Common cause of headache
  • Dehydration: One of the common causes with the easiest solution. It is important to keep your hydration level right especially in a hot day.

  • Diet: Some people get trigger reaction of headache from eating certain food type, such as processed food, dairy products, citrus, bananas, cheese, nuts and onions.

  • Stress: Stress is a huge cause of a lot of condition and provoking a disease. When you’re stressed often your muscle tenses up, most people hold tension in their neck and shoulder which builds trigger points and tight muscles.

  • Muscle tightness and trigger points: Tightness of neck and shoulder muscles can be caused by stress but also from over and heavy use, repetitive job that requires muscle tension.

  • Hormones: For some women, changes in estrogen level could be a reason for their headache.

  • Environment: Such as seasons, changes in light, smoke, humidity, scents or cold weather.

  • Lack of sleep: Lack of sleep can affect our body in a many levels and headache is one of them. Quick fix is that you have a nap (yay!).

  • Caffeine withdrawal: If you drink a lot of coffee and “need” that caffeine punch in the morning then you might have to be careful when you stop drinking abruptly. It can cause caffein withdrawal symptoms which is a pounding pain of headache.



What is trigger point?

Trigger point is a sensitive nodule in our muscle when its palpated. You can feel mild to high pain when a therapist presses on to those nodules and in some cases, it can cause referral pain into other area. Trigger point can form in an overworked muscle, repetitive limited range of movement with the long hold tension (such as vacuuming, drilling, sawing, etc.).



Muscles that causes headache with its trigger point

1. Upper trapezius: Muscle located from base of the skull, along the neck and widen to the outer shoulder.

Trigger point often forms on the upper side of the muscle, in between the neck and shoulder joint and cause referral pain into temple, side of the head and neck and into the jaw.





2. Sternocleidomastoid: Muscle located from behind the either side of ears down to clavicle (collarbone). Visual when you tilt your head backwards.

Trigger point often forms in the middle of the muscle belly and cause referral pain into the back of the head, into the ear/back of the ear, forehead into around the eye.






3. Splenius group: Muscle located either side of the spine of the back of the neck, joining upper neck spine to the upper thoracic spine.

Trigger point often forms upper muscle belly into the spine and base of the skull. Causes referral pain into top of the head, outer side of the eye and base of the neck.






4. Temporalis: Muscle located either side of the head, above the cheek bone.

Trigger point often forms in the mid level of the muscle and cause referral pain into eyebrow, temple, side of the head and also can cause toothache.





5. Sub-occipitalis group: Muscle located back of the head/neck, very close to under the skull and joining upper cervical (neck) spine.

Trigger point often forms in the muscle belly, underneath the base of the skull. Causes referral pain into side, back and front of the ear level of head.





6. Masseter: Muscle located from either side of under the cheek bone to the bottom of the jaw, into the jaw line corner.

Trigger point can be formed upper, middle and lower level of the muscle which causes different type of referral pain. Upper trigger point cause pain into the cheek, ear, and upper toothache. Middle trigger point cause pain into the jaw and lower toothache. Lower trigger point cause pain into the jaw and eyebrow.




How to relieve the "headache trigger points"

Trigger point can be ‘released’ with the right amount of pressure and time. That means you can relieve your headache trigger points with;

  • Remedial massage/Trigger point therapy: Trigger point therapy is one of the most used techniques, at least personally, during remedial massage treatment. It helps to relieve the ‘knotted’ muscles, decrease pain level and increase mobility that was limited by the trigger point

  • Self-massage: If you can reach or feel the sensitive nodule/knot that sends pain into the headache area. You have to hold it for 30 seconds to few minutes, depending how fast or slow the release is, and gentle rub or stretches to settle the area. Also, there are a lot of devices that you can use to relieve trigger point such as foam roller, spiky ball/massage ball, and trigger point cane, etc.

  • Dry Needling therapy: Dry needling therapy is great to release trigger point, myofascial tension. It may look scary but after the initial pain of the very fine needle being inserted, it goes away and leave you with greater relief. After the needle is removed, due to decrease of tension, the therapist can work deeper layer of the soft tissue without digging in with excessive force. Which means reduce the chance of post-massage soreness!










At Harmonize Body Works, we provide diverse skill set including dry needling, trigger point therapy, deep tissue, myofasical release, and cupping therapy to relieve trigger point!

Contact us to find more about your issue and treatment plan.



Written by Seonkyo Kim; Dip. RMT






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