Haumanu Health | Gold Coast Massage

CAPOW Series – Tension-Type Headaches

Ever had one of those headaches that feels like a band tightening around your head and only gets worse as the day goes on?

This could be a Tension -Type Headache.

The pain is usually described as ‘vise-like’ and begins at the back of the head or frontal region and eventually spreads over the entire head. You also can experience some tenderness of the scalp, neck and shoulder muscles (The last two posts in the series can help with some of that).

“Tension-type headache is the most widespread headache disorder.  Recent international studies have shown the average prevalence as 36% for men and 42% for women  (cf migraine: 6% for men and 18% for women). This means that about 7 million Australians are likely to have tension-type headaches.  A recent WHO report states that ‘onset is often in teenage years and prevalence peaks in fourth decade then declines’ and  ‘60% of those with tension-type headache experience reductions in social activities and work capacity’.” (Alexander, “Tension-type Headache”, Headache Australia, n.d.)

Possible Culprits:

Even though the name ‘tension’ headache would imply stress and tension being the main triggers, it’s really because of excessive muscle contraction due to postural strain during these stressful times e.g. a slumped posture (think forward head and rounded back), frowning and jaw clenching.  So stress is a contributing factor but it is mostly postural strain on muscles that causes the symptoms you feel.

As a massage therapist I usually find that facial muscles, sub-occipitals, frontalis and the occipitalis are the main culprits and as I have mentioned before they don’t usually happen in isolation.  It usually presents in conjunction with the last two presenting conditions we have discussed in the #CAPOW series.

Stretching / Strengthening / Recommendations:

The biggest recommendation I give clients is to take break from their desks and to go find something that will relax them and not require intense focus. 


There are two muscles on the front and the back of your skull, the Frontalis and Occipitalis (They are connected with a fibrous sheath called the Epicranial Aponeurosis). The Frontalis muscle controls the forehead muscles– so as more and more tension is placed on those two muscles (that furrowed brow during stressful times) they can pull that sheath tighter and tighter leading to that feeling of pressure and a tender scalp.

The main group of muscles I work on are Sub-occipital Muscles (pictured above).  These lie deep at the base of the skull and help to control the position of the head.

As they are generally postural muscles it’s easier to think of them in relation to the forward head position.  As your head goes further forward the sub-occipital muscles work to keep your line of sight looking forward because if they didn’t you would be looking at the ground.

As i mentioned above, stress, while not being a direct cause, is definitely a contributing factor to the tension-type headaches.  So using a range of Remedial & Swedish/Relaxation massage techniques will help to not also treat the soft tissues but also calm the stress response to support your well-being.

Here is on one of my go to stretches for sub-occipital group (a couple of variations for your comfort):

What we are trying to achieve is coaching your neck into a neutral spine, lengthening the sub-occipital muscles and relieving postural tension.

I suggest adding these to the stretches of the last few posts and by the end of the #CAPOW Series i’ll put together a little sequence you can do from your desk to try and help your overcome those aches and pains.