Picture the “before” person in an ad for a headache pain reliever: brows furrowed, eyes squinting, fingers massaging temples.
Headache pain manifests in different areas, but the archetypal muscle that sufferers massage for relief is the temporalis, a wide, fan-‐shaped muscle located on both sides of the skull. The temporalis originates at the temporal line of the temporal bones (and the temporal fossa and fascia) and passes underneath the cheekbones, attaching to the back part of the mandible (jaw). It is a muscle of mastication (chewing), and its job is to close your jaw and to retract it. If you place your fingers at the top of your temple and press your teeth together you will feel it contract.
There is conflicting research regarding the causes of tension headaches and migraines. Some studies suggest that muscle contractions in the head and neck such as those resulting from teeth‐grinding are partly to blame. Others indicate that headache sufferers may be predisposed to a heightened sensitivity to pain. Contributing factors may be different for different people, and a headache may be brought on by a perfect storm of events: a combination of particular foods, physical activity, sound, smoke, bright lights, hormonal states, weather changes, and stress. Stress regularly is acknowledged as a factor in all types of headaches.
Interestingly, some migraine sufferers who received Botox treatments for vanity reasons also experienced a diminished number of headaches, leading the FDA to approve Botox as a treatment for migraines. However, scientists believe the relief is not provided by the relaxing of the muscle, but by inhibiting the release of neurotransmitters that affect the central pain-processing systems associated with migraines.
Massage can reduce pain for similar reasons. In addition to increasing blood flow and relaxing tense muscle fibers, deep touch stimulates pressure receptors in the brain that stimulate the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that runs from the brain stem to the abdomen. The vagus nerve is the major highway of the down-regulating “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system, and activating it deactivates the sympathetic “fight or flight” state of stress. Pressure messages also are transmitted faster than pain messages (which is why we often rub a place that is hurting), thereby intercepting the perception of pain.
The Classic Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls are a great tool for cranial or head self-massage. Their small size and grippy rubber material makes them perfect for the shallow valleys and nooks and crannies of the face and skull. I like to use them to skin roll my temples. Simply press the ball into your temple and twist; the rubber will grip and massage the underlying tissue. It also feels great to roll the ball around the circumference of the muscle. Lie on your side with your head resting on a yoga block. Place the ball in between the block and your Temporalis and move your head around the ball. This will help relieve tension and minimize pain, leaving you more like the smiling “after” person at the end of the headache medicine ad. Try this substitute for tension headache medicine today.
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I really wish more people thought like you and would actively look for the cause of their pain before masking the symptoms with medications. Treat the cause not the symptoms. I often get a lot of tension in my sub occipital muscles and always feel so much better after laying in the YTU originals in a tote.
Curious from those who get migraines when the best time to use these techniques would be – prior to the start as a general maintenance practice, right when you sense it is coming, during the worst of it? Is it too intense to do the ballpark once the migraine has set in? Thanks for the info.
I hadn’t thought about massaging with the YTU balls for migraine! I will try that next time. Thank you!
Thanks for the reminder that YTU balls can be helpful for the face and skull too!
Although I am not familiar with headache (thank God) I notice especially after rolling one side of my head, how much tension my m.temporalis holds because of the relieve and relaxed feeling I get when I compare it with the other, untreated side. I will tell my sister in law, who’s suffering from migraine, to give this a try. Thanks!
Hi Gwen! Thank you for this very helpful information. I was getting a weird headache today I couldn’t shake for a whole day. I’m about to try doing that roll with a block around my temple. Much better option than going straight to medicine. Thanks again for the cool tips 🙂
I’ve suffered from migraines my entire life. Recently they have evolved into a cervical migraine due to tightness and allergies. I look forward to giving the therapy balls a try to see if I can not only prevent migraines but at minimum find some relief during the strongest part of them. Leaving me bedridden for days on end. Thank you so much for sharing!
I love the skin rolling on the temples! I have a few dear friends that suffer from migraines and have tried everything from Botox to experimental medical trials. I can’t wait to introduce them to the therapy balls, though I could see it being hard for them to believe that after years of suffering, a ball might be a solution they never thought of! I suffer from tension headaches and yoga and self massage has been incredible.
I have been suffering from migraine for years and I know how scary it is. Not just the pain also the recovery period after healing the pain. I tend to press my fingers on the temples when I feel the migraine comes which totally make sense to use the rolling method or just pressing the balls to release the tension on temples. Especially after a stressful day a little bit Yoga Tune Up therapy ball massage can save from the migraine pain. I am really happy to find an alternative to Excedrin because every time I consume a pill I feel a little bit guilty:)
I love the temporalis rolling whenever my eyes felt tired or dryness while stay with the computer for a long time. My eyes feel brighter after the rolls. Enjoy to mix with the technique of skin folding and sustain & release with head neutral and still, use my hand to move the ball( with a block or a book on the table to make sure my spine is not in flexion and elbow is supported. If I have time, I will do the skin folding on the scalene and cross fiber on the masseter from the low chin (the angle of the mandible)to work upward until meet the below the cheek bone (zygomatic arch). Follow with the sustained and release on the muscle belly. Mostly, migraine is not going to attack me. I can do these works on the computer desk. After reading this article, I learn the release is coming from the vagus nerve.
Will skinroll my temples now for vagus nerve activation before bedtime.
My husband suffers from headaches regularly. I tend to be more of a weather & emotion headache kinda of gal. Whenever we get headaches we break out the balls! There is no doubt in my mind and not one change in my experience thus far- YTU balls help with headaches every time! Even if the headache doesn’t magically disappear it definitely becomes a little “lighter”.
For a while I found myself waking up in the morning to headache. I learned how to use the YTU Therapy Balls to release these headaches and now I’m free of them. Thanks so much for your article.
I’ve just started using the therapy balls to massage my head. I’ve been combining this with rolling my shoulders and neck to relieve tension and migraines. I’ve had positive results so far and I’m really optimistic that with continued regular use of the therapy balls, I’ll finally relieve my migraines.
Thanks Gwen for this enlightening article. I had no idea that touch activates the vagus nerve. I sometimes get tension headaches and very rarely a migraine, definitely less since i started rolling my temporalis and masseter regularly. Just added the Corgeous ball on my belly to my routine and wonder if that helps with headaches as well since it directly stimulates the vagus nerve? I am almost sure any ball rolling helps as long as it relaxes us. After all, its all connected….
As a sufferer of migraines since the age of 9, I wish I had therapy balls in my toolbox a lot sooner. Though I was able to cure mine nearly 100% after years of experimentation with food I was consuming, this article is still extremely interesting as even when I did get migraines regularly, I preferred to not take anything over the counter or prescriptive. I do wonder if I would have been able to tolerate the additional movement or sensation of a rubber ball on my neck or face. I think I would rather avoid the need to ever answer that…but I am certainly a fan of any individual that was successful using this method!
The temple is a great place to start when you feel a migraine coming on. The grippy Yoga Tune Up therapy balls get deeper than your fingers without a lot of pressure.
Interesting how the feelings of pressure travel faster than pain through our neuro pathways. That explains why laying my arm across my head often relieves my headaches. I’ll definitely try the YTU techniques you suggest.
Good reminder of the perception of pressure is quicker to travel to our brain via nuero pathways than pain. The application of pressure via the therapy balls is a prime example how we can apply the pressure and pain relief can be attained. Like the ideas to rid of migraines over drugs and Botox. I am a natural kind of girl!
Great post Gwen! I have always loved any type of cranial massage or rather any type touch to any part of my head. I always loved having my hair brushed. Lol! I always wanted to find a way to self-massage my cranial without it being to much work for me to fully relax. Finally, I can…..with the YTU therapy balls. Thanks for the sharing your cranial techniques. Gonna actually skin roll my temples now!
I have had chronic migraines since the age of 5! They have worsened in the last 10 years I guess. My whole body actually becomes enflamed. For me the migraine could begin in my lower back around the sacrum and then travel across the crest of the sacroiliac joints then up the back to the scalene and sternocleidomastoid then all up through the temporalis, the cheekbones and mandible.
It’s absolute agony. Yesterday on the first day of YTU anatomy class I felt fantastic but by the end as I was walking home, the migraine attacked. I felt a lot of discomfort in my lower back during class so I think that triggered it. We had rolled out the mastoid process into the mandible and it felt good at the time but I fear it may have triggered the migraine maybe?
I am looking for any advice you have as I am exhausted with pain killers from the neurologist and botox is next on the list – ugh!
Maybe it’s daily self care that I should begin doing?
Are there softer balls available for migraine sufferers that are less intense maybe?
Any advice is appreciated.
Sure beats medication and sleepless nights or time lost from work.. great post
Thanks for sharing this technique as well as the anatomical information related to headaches.
Thanks for sharing, Gwen. I have suffered from migraines since I was young (they seem to have started around puberty). My migraines are brought on by the “perfect storm” that you mention. For me personally, it’s hormonal changes, diet and weather (and sometimes light). I also get tension headaches, and the difference between the two is quite clear to me. I’m eager to try the cranial massage for the tension headaches. The body is so sensitive during a migraine episode, that I’m not sure I can handle a cranial massage. But I’ll try it next time- it’s worth a shot!
I tried this technique the other night and it felt so good roll the ball around the Temporalis area. It really did help relieve my headache!
I have TMJ and I often grind and clinch my teeth when I sleep causing me to wake up with headaches that can last up to 2 days. I can’t wait to roll out my temporalis!!
I’ve been dealing with migraine headaches since high school and am constantly looking for something to replace to constant pill popping. I’ve used yoga therapy and lacrosse balls for larger muscle groups like my traps and IT bands in my dance training but I’ve never considered using them on the head and face until today. I was pleasantly surprised by my at home experiment. Opposite to what I expected the balls really helped to relax my face and head muscles in a calm manner that I could feel resonating all the way down my back- releasing tension I didn’t even know was so bad. I’m definitely excited to add this to my yoga and life toolbox!
I’m suffered from migraine headaches since high school and am constantly looking for alternatives to popping pills. I’ve used therapy balls in the past for major muscles but it never occurred to me to try them on my skull and face. I’ve tried it out by following this article and I can’t believe how nice and relaxing it felt. I figured it would just hurt and be uncomfortable. I’ll definitely be trying this before hitting the medicine cabinet the next time I’m got a headache. Further I’m sure implementing this practice will help to relax my shoulders and neck which is always needed for me as my desk job builds tension in those areas. Looking forwards to this addition to my yoga and life tool kit!
Thanks Gwen! After a long day of teaching yoga and YTU training, I sat down to do my homework with a nagging headache. How lucky am I that my homework was also my medicine?! I was assigned to read and comment on 3 YTU blogs, and yours was the first that really resonated with me. Because I have a neck injury, my headaches are often triggered by neck tension so I spent the few minutes that I had between training and my evening class rolling out my Mastoid process, Splenis capitis, Levator scapula,and Trapezius muscles. This took some of the edge off, but I still felt quite uncomfortable. After reading your blog, I went straight to my balls and started the cranial self massage. Magic!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I’m so grateful for the empowerment of self massage and therapy and am excited to share the good news :).
Great article,this weekend I’ve had horrible Sinus headaches from my allergies. I had the privilege of doing this yesterday evening and it and it reduces the some of the pressure from my sinus headache.
I am very fortunate to not have random headaches, however, as a personal trainer I have noticed that a lot of my clients do. I will pass your methods along to my clients and hopefully that will help them.
I get migraines during drastic weather changes or when I eat too much sugar. I had actually tried this technique before I read the article by rolling the therapy balls along my jaw. The next time a migraine presents itself, I’ll also try squeezing them into the temple area. Thanks for the tip!
Hy Gwen, I am new in the world of YTU balls ! But I really enjoyed your video on temporal release. And I am looking forward to apply it to my clients. Thank you I enjoyed your step by step approach and simplicity of it. Great to read that it has help some people to prevent migraines !
Gwen….you had me at the title! But for some seriousness now, I did exactly as you instructed and I felt the temporals contract. What an amazing discovery! I have never thought about getting that up close and personal with my muscles before — and you have inspired me immensely. And now I’m in the middle of YOGA Tune up training and none of it feels abnormal anymore — especially the tip to roll the circumstance of the muscle. Thanks!
No wonder people like my reiki sessions … I apply pressure light pressure to the temples, to the scull and the base of the scull during part of the session. I can tell that they totally change their energy and go into such a beautiful calmed state when I do that form of touch therapy.
I will also try the therapy balls on myself and teach my clients to do the same
Very interesting blog post. I had no idea that botox is being used to treat migraines.
This is one of those moment when I think: why did I not think of that. I suffer from headaches on a regular basis, all from muscular tension. Self-massage with my own hands always seem to increase my headaches because of the shoulder involvement, I believe. An external tool might bring relief without increasing other tensions. Worth a try, thank you!
Great information for those of us who suffer from migraines and our clients who do. I will definitely share this one with people who are prone to these things. I know my triggers, but it is great to have a way to lessen the impact.
As a CrossFit athlete, I personally find a lot of relief when I massage the insertion of the Trapezius on the base of my skull. I get a lot of tightness in the traps and neck due to many heavy pulling exercises and headaches sometimes ensue. By lying on my back and pressing my skull lightly on the Yoga Tune Up ball, I can relieve enormous amounts of pressure.
I often suffer from headaches – granted mine tend to be behind my eyes and at the base of my skull. I’ve never looked forward to having a headache, but I do look forward to hopefully treating (or ideally preventing) future headaches with my tuneup balls.
Do you have any specific recommendations about techniques to use to address the headaches I’ve mentioned?
I have a student who suffers from migraines and says that she can’t endure the sensations of rolling anywhere near the head or face even on a good day. Your mention of skin rolling inspired me to try having her manually direct the ball, along the temporalis and jaw line, while laying on her back and breathing consciously. She managed to tolerate it and even came out of it smiling, just as you said. Thank you!
Thanks for the tutorial Gwen. I do not suffer from migraines but do find myself unconsciously clenching my jaw throughout the day. I followed along with your video and found so ‘hot spots’ as well. This will be great to add to my evening wind down, releasing tension that I often don’t even know that I am carrying.
Great article and video. It’s always nice to have a natural alternative – rather than always reaching for medication. I’ve been suffering from headaches in this exact area and wasn’t too sure of the cause. I will definitely give the skin rolling and temporalis massage a try.
Gwen, loved your blog. Not too many blogs about temporalis muscle, so it was very much appreciated. Your video looked simply delicious and an amazing way to de-stress….I grabbed my ball and followed along. I will be using your amazing practice with my students. Many thanks.
Thanks! I hadn’t thought to use those balls on my head, and your description makes total sense.
I have suffered from migraines for many years. I was introduced to the Yoga Tune Up balls a couple years ago and have used them particularly to loosen the muscle and fascia on either side of my spine between my shoulder blades, and the muscles in the upper neck. I also use them under and around my occiput. These have proven to be great techniques in preventing migraines for me (though not as much in helping to relieve the pain once a migraine has set in).