Strained Muscles: What’s Really Causing Your Headaches

Got a headache? Struggling to figure out what’s causing it? It could be your muscles. And osteopathy is the answer – here’s why. 

We’ve all been there. Functioning perfectly well, at work or at home, and then suddenly – BOOM – you’ve felt those first signs of a developing headache. 

You’ve had plenty of fluid, you haven’t indulged in too much screen time, and you’ve enjoyed plenty of sleep. So what’s going on? 

Ask yourself: do you find that headaches occur regularly with no apparent root cause? 

Well – have you considered stress? Perhaps you have considered emotional or psychological stress, but how about physical stress? 

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Chances are, you’ve probably thought about every other possible cause. It’s human nature to instantly head for the scariest diagnosis, and then promptly stick our heads in the sand. Yet, that won’t solve anything. In fact, you’ll only make things worse! 

Ignorance isn’t always bliss; more often, it’s reckless self-abandonment. 

So, it therefore might put your mind at ease to learn that stress can put a strain on your muscles, and it’s most likely that the muscles in your neck and back are the culprit (or the victim) – rather than anything sinister developing in your head. 

Unless you’ve been watching The Real Housewives of Melbourne, as that’s enough to develop all kinds of alarming inner monologues… 

That being said, even though your muscles may need to be addressed (and that’s where osteopathy comes in), we are under no illusion about the severity of headaches. 

Not only can pains across the head take a significant toll on your mental and physical health, but they can ensure that everyday situations become all the more stressful; as you try to deal with the associated pain and discomfort alongside your regular tasks. 

It can become an endless loop of stress and consequent headaches, fueled by a constant reliance on painkillers and slow-burning anxiety. 

So, what can you do? Let’s take a deep dive into the symptoms of a ‘tension’ headache (also known as a ‘muscle-strain headache’) and pinpoint whether a muscle strain may be the cause of your problem. 

What Causes A Tension Headache?

The most common kind of headache we see in our Murumbenna and Mount Waverley clinics is a tension headache, which can result from anxiety, emotional stress, tiredness, postural muscles becoming over-worked (strained), lack of physical activity as well as other environmental factors. Most often more than one of these causes will act at the same time!

But what kick starts the muscles into causing discomfort? 

Basically – when your body responds to pain and inflammation, or when a situation requires your ‘fight or flight’ stress response, your system becomes triggered. And, when triggered, your muscles tense up as a form of protection. 

As the condition’s title may imply, tension headaches are the result of chronically tense muscles located around your neck, upper back and shoulders. This condition can take time to build up for some, or it can occur quickly for others. Each person develops the condition differently. 

Tension headaches can undoubtedly bring about severe discomfort and chronic pain, but it’s important not to get them mixed up with  causes of other types of headaches – such as  dysfunction of neck joints, discs or nerves or dehydration. 

Unlike a dehydration-sponsored headache, or a migraine, tension headaches don’t cause sensitivity to light, nausea, or vomiting. 

Also, a tension headache doesn’t throb. Instead, it typically presents itself as a constant and steady pain across both sides of the temple. 

It’s not uncommon for the condition to occur occasionally out of the blue for no apparent reason. And this can be caused by a build-up of strain and tightness on the surrounding and associated muscles. 

Why Does Muscle Strain Cause Headaches?

Doctors and medical researchers can’t generalize an exact cause that’s similar for everyone. In essence, the exact cause of this type of headache is still relatively unknown. 

What we do know is that leading industry experts believe your surrounding environment could be playing a role in your tension-type headaches. As could your genetics. 

Muscular contractions in the neck/head/shoulder/upper back areas can also contribute to tension headaches. A tension headache can come about when a person is spending long periods at a desk whilst undergoing a stressful workload.

However, mental stress does not always have to accompany physical stress, and physical stress can alone lead to tension headaches (such as when we are binge-watching TV on the couch). What’s pertinent is that being sedentary for a long time means that we are of course involved in long periods without some sort of physical movement.

These causes often go hand-in-hand and will lead to fatigue of our postural muscles, eventual tightening or tension and a resultant headache.  It is important to note that the muscular strain we refer to in the instance of tension headaches, refers to the strain that is placed on the postural muscles of the neck shoulders and upper back when assuming a poor posture for a long time or over repeated times. 

Some of us suffer from these kinds of headaches after experiencing a turn of stressful events, or an extremely busy day. 

Regardless of what happens during your stressful day (or prolonged week/month), the underlying root cause is most likely to be tense or overused, muscles that you’re not consciously aware of. 

Tension Headache: Symptoms To Watch For

The most commonly found symptoms that dictate a tension headache include blanket pain across both sides of your head, although that pain will have come on gradually, and the pain will sometimes have started in the back of your head. 

It’ll feel as though you’ve got an ever-tightening vice or band around your head, exerting an increasing amount of pressure across your skull. 

Sounds vague, right? That’s because the symptoms are vague, and that’s why it remains essential to seek professional medical advice to gain a diagnosis. 

The specific symptoms can often mimic other medical problems, and rather than allowing Dr Google to scare the fear of God into you, an osteopath (or doctor) will keep you on the right side of anxiety. 

We wouldn’t advise trying to go it alone at home, either. We’d recommend that you contact us, and we can work through things together. 

Other causes that can lead to headaches include bad cases of toothache, strained eyesight, and an infection in your sinuses – such as your inner ear. All of these other underlying issues are important to identify but difficult to distinguish without the help of a professional.  

Dehydration is a big one, as many of us simply aren’t getting enough fluid. Your body cries out for water when things get really bad, and an intense headache is one of the results. 

How We Can Help With Your Headaches

At Focus Osteopathy, we diagnose the cause of your headache not only based on your symptoms, but on a detailed medical history and thorough physical evaluation.  

You see, we never generalize treatment for any condition – and that includes tension headaches. What works for some patients won’t necessarily work for everyone. It’s why we take the time to get to know you, and understand your situation and circumstances and most importantly what outcomes you would like to achieve. 

Before visiting one of our clinics, think about how you would answer the following questions:

  • Where does it hurt? 
  • Where is the location of your headache? 
  • Is there a dull ache, or is it a throbbing pain?
  • Is the pain constant, or intermittent?
  • When do the headaches start, and does anything seem to trigger them?
  • How long do these headaches last?
    Does sitting upright too quickly, or changing positions, cause a headache? 
  • Have there been any noticeable changes in your personality or behaviour?
  • Have you suffered head, neck, or spinal injuries in the last few years?
  • Do you suffer from stress or high blood pressure?
  • How well do you sleep on average? 

Depending on what our evaluation tells us, we might then recommend some additional tests. There is nothing to panic about should we suggest testing. It’s purely an extra cautionary step to ensure that no other medical issues are at play that could be causing or mimicking symptoms. 

It all allows us to safely move forward and treat your tension headaches. 

Tests can include an X-ray of the sinus region (looking for infections, congestion, or anything else needing treatment), a CT scan, an MRI test, or a blood test (to rule out anemia, thyroid issues, infection, or hormonal imbalance). 

Osteopathy focuses on the treatment of muscles, joint and nerves, and by addressing the muscles that instigate a tension-type headache, we can help to prevent them from reoccurring. 

By reducing the stress and tension as much as possible, which we understand is easier said than done (!), you’ll be helping yourself regain control.

What Can I Do To Help Myself?

Let’s cover the basics. 

Make sure you get enough sleep! A lack of proper rest can trigger tension headaches, and you should always aim to set a routine for going to sleep. There are other benefits to getting enough sleep that will aid your health, too. 

If you start to feel the pain building up, try to find yourself a dark and quiet area in which to rest. Should you have been prescribed pain medication by your doctor or physician, use your pills only as appropriate. 

How’s your diet? Ensure you eat three meals daily, with regular healthy snacking, to maintain a healthy blood sugar table. Try not to skip meals, as this has also been proven to cause headaches. 

If you are struggling with your diet, or if certain foods seem to trigger a tension headache, try keeping a food diary(However we do understand that dealing with nutrition can be a very challenging task to do alone, so if you need help please reach out and we can organise for you to chat to our resident Functional Nutritionist). 

Try to do some exercise during your day. This can be as short as 30 minutes – such as a gentle jog or a brisk walk – and will help to reduce your stress levels. Furthermore, try to incorporate either yoga or meditation into your weekly schedule.   

If you’d like more advice on dealing with tension headaches, or wish to book some osteopathy sessions,. Click here for availability or her to talk to one of our friendly team.  

Don’t suffer in silence with your headaches. Reach out for some help! 

Talk to us. We are here to help!