Picture the “before” person in an ad for a headache pain reliever: brows furrowed, eyes squinting, fingers massaging temples.

The temporalis is one of the major muscles of mastication, as well as a potential source of headaches.
The temporalis is one of the major muscles of mastication, as well as a potential source of headaches.

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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