Massaging Temples and Other Maneuvers to Treat Headaches

Massaging Your Temples to Ease Your Headache

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Headaches commonly present themselves at inconvenient times, like when a person is in the middle of a meeting, a family outing, or stuck on an airplane. Often over-the-counter medications are not readily available, and a nap is just not possible at the moment. So many people turn to self pain-alleviating maneuvers to temporarily ease their pain.

But does temple massage or applying a cold washcloth to your head actually work?

Self Pain-Relieving Maneuvers

Self-pain-relieving maneuvers are self-soothing behaviors a person does to ease the pain in their body, like that of a headache. These are commonly used by people suffering from a tension headache or migraine.

While not an exhaustive list, here are examples of self-soothing headache maneuvers:

  • Massaging the temples, neck, or scalp with hand, fingers, or an object
  • Applying cold to the affected area, like with a cold pack, cold drink, or cold hand
  • Applying heat to the affected area, usually with a scarf, hairdryer, or hot shower
  • Compression (e.g., using a handkerchief wrapped tightly around the head) or pressing firmly on the area of pain

It's interesting to note that compression is more commonly utilized in migraineurs versus scalp massage in people with tension headaches. This is likely due to the sensation caused by a migraine (throbbing, like a drum beating on your brain) versus a tension headache (a tight grip or band around your head).

For those with cluster headaches, people are more likely to utilize unique maneuvers, like covering one ear, lateral rotation of the head, shallow breathing, moving about, or closing the nostril on the same side as the head pain.

Do These Maneuvers Work?

While these maneuvers may provide temporary relief, the pain usually returns as soon as the maneuver is stopped. In fact, according to an older study in Cephalalgia, only 8 percent of the 400 headache participants reported that the maneuvers resulted in good or excellent pain control.

Still, nearly half of the participants continued to use self-pain-relieving maneuvers at each headache attack, despite the lack of any substantial relief.

Other Non-Medication Options

Besides the above-mentioned self pain-easing maneuvers, there are other ways to complement your headache and migraine care.

Some of these complementary therapies include:

  • Biofeedback
  • Yoga
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Aerobic exercise, especially for migraines
  • Trigger point release massage for tension-type headaches

The good news is that compared to self-soothing headache maneuvers, the potential benefit of these complementary therapies is supported by various scientific studies.

That said, be sure to talk with your doctor before embarking on one—this way you can choose the strategy that works best for your headache type and your unique needs/goals.

A Word from Verywell

While self-pain-relieving behaviors are temporarily effective at best, it's okay if you use them, as they are harmless. Perhaps doing something good for yourself adds a psychological benefit, which is hard to calculate from a study. Go with your gut on this one. And do not be afraid to try multiple strategies—it's usually a trial and error process to finding the right treatment regimen that works for you.

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