If you are suffering from headaches, especially the tension headaches we associate with stress, don’t assume you will always need to take a prescription drug, or otherwise be doomed to enduring the pain.

Stress headaches are caused by muscle tension.  Muscles are built to flex and extend as we move, and get all their circulation between movement.  That’s when the blood supply brings in food and oxygen, and carries away the products of metabolism.



During sleep this takes place naturally, but during the day our modern workplace gets in the way.  We have invented the cubicle to replace the spear and rake.  Now we hunt and peck, instead of hunting and gathering.  But by the end of several hours, our large muscles have not moved, except to draw our shoulders forward, to raise our shouldertips up to our ears, and to crane our necks downwards toward the screen.  While the small muscles of the hand may be moving, the large muscles are screaming for fuel and oxygen!

The result is pain.  In just the same way, two suitcases held at arms length can become extremely painful.  Even if the suitcases are empty, and the arms are muscular, the muscles cannot withstand permanent tension, which is why this technique has infamously been used as torture.

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So if you feel like you are being tortured with headaches while you are working at a stressful job, here are some simple steps to try before resorting to a prescription drug:

1. Set a timer.  Every fifteen minutes, have a kitchen timer or an Outlook reminder sound the alarm.  Then straighten up your posture, pull back your shoulder blades so they almost touch, and roll your neck and shoulders around in slow circles.  Just a short break, then back into the task you go. 


2. Take a breath.  Most of us breath very shallow cycles unless we are huffing in full sprint.  With desk work, this means the lungs never properly fill or empty, and carbon dioxide builds up in our blood.  This makes our pH acidic, and further adds to the pain in our muscles, already painful by their buildup of lactic acid from contracting.  During your fifteen minute mini-break, take a moment to exhale through your mouth.  Blow it all out, then blow out even more.  You will be surprised how much extra air you were holding back!  Now take a slow breath in through your nose, until you can’t inhale any more.  Pause for several seconds, then blow it all out again.  Repeat a few times, then return to your task.

3. Take a drink. 

 Most people are “down a quart” in water, just like our cars are often short of motor oil.  Rehydration with water will improve sludged circulation to those tense muscle cells.  Hot water or cold, it doesn’t matter. 

4. Try a massage.  First, your own fingers can help if you press firmly over the temples.  Clench and unclench your teeth, and feel the scalp muscles on each side of the head as they engage.  If there are tender spots here, apply your own fingerpressure firmly for a few seconds, in a slow circular motion.  If the headache is still bad, pair off with a co-worker; have him or her stand behind you as you sit, and place one thumb over each of your shoulder tips.  The exact target is the half-way point between the spinal nob at the base of your neck and the edge of the shoulder, where the seam of the arm meets the body of the shirt.  The Chinese Acupuncturists know this as “Gall Bladder 21”, and MD Pain specialists know this as a classic “trigger point” to inject with freezing.  But without needles, it is still a powerful point to prevent tension pains.


Press with the thumbs firmly, and visualize descending a four story elevator.  The muscles will start to ease under the thumbs, then add more pressure to go down to the third floor.  The thumbnails will be white with the pressure, and you will soon feel the release of the underlying shoulder muscles again.  Repeat until down to the “lobby”.  Do NOT start at the surface and then press all the way to the basement!!

If the above doesn’t work, then try a non-prescription drug.  If still no luck, see your doctor for a full assessment, diagnosis, and then a treatment plan.

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