A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me if I had any tips for managing tension headaches; she’s been experiencing them more frequently from working long hours as an ER nurse. Like many nurses, she spends most of the day on her feet. By the end of her shift, her muscles feel stiff, her head is pounding, and she needs a few, quick tools to relieve her pain. If you experience tension headaches while at work, hopefully, these tips will be useful to you as well.

1. Loosen up your muscles

In an online article, Mayo Clinic recommends the application of heat or ice to loosen up tense neck and shoulder muscles. “Use a heating pad set on low, a hot water bottle, a hot shower or bath, a warm compress, or a hot towel. Or apply an ice pack (wrapped in a cloth) or a cool washcloth across the forehead.”

Although using a heating pad at work might not be practical, resting an ice pack on your neck when you’re at lunch or on a break might be an easy fix to help lessen muscle tension and mitigate your headache.

2. Try some breathwork

In February, we discussed some of the benefits of breathwork, like encouraging relaxation, reducing anxiety, energizing you, and lessening the feelings of physical and mental stress. Additionally, breathwork can decrease muscle tension, particularly if you try The Five Count Breath. This technique, implemented in Pilates exercises, oxygenates your body and reduces muscle tension in the rib cage and thoracic spine. Here’s a recap on how to use this simple breathing exercise:

Start with a slow inhale through your nose to the count of five. Then, exhale your breath through your mouth also to the count of five. Picture yourself wringing all the stale air out of your lungs and replenishing them with fresh air. With each breath, imagine the tension dissolving from your head, neck, shoulders, and back. Repeat this cycle five to 10 times or whenever needed to reduce overall physical and mental stress.

3. Sneak in a neck stretch

The chin tuck is an effective way to stretch your neck muscles. Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Draw your shoulder blades together and keep your head facing forward. Gently move your head back, making sure to keep it level; you don’t want your chin to lift up or dip down. Hold this stretch for five seconds and repeat five to 10 times.

4. Treat yourself to a massage

If you’re not finding relief with basic measures, consider getting a massage. The American Massage Therapy Association believes that massage can be used to alleviate tension headaches and improve postural alignment. Looking for an excuse to treat yourself to a little TLC? Now, you have one!

Jennifer Lelwica Buttaccio

Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is a Chicago-based, freelance lifestyle writer, licensed occupational therapist, and certified Pilates instructor. Her expertise is in health, wellness, fitness, and chronic illness management.

Latest posts by Jennifer Lelwica Buttaccio (see all)

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