Monday 5th August, 2019
  Categories: Practitioners

Clinical trial: simple home remedy completely relieved 58% of tension headaches

Man suffering from a headache
A clinical trial showed a simple home remedy may help avoid a life of suffering and symptom relieving drugs

Tension headaches often mean a life of suffering and symptom relieving drugs, but a clinical trial showed that simple trigger point therapy you can easily do yourself gave complete relief for 58% of sufferers (1)⁠ In this article we will show you how this was done and how to do it yourself. However, based on the results of several other studies you may be able to do much better. We’ll help you with this to.

The way we’ll do this is by first going over:

What are tension headaches

Tension headaches (also known as muscle contraction or stress headaches) are by far the most common types of headache (one references stated 90%) (2)⁠. There is no concise definition. What happens is that if the headache fits the general pattern below and the doctors cannot find a cause it is labelled a “tension headache”.

How are tension headaches diagnosed

There are no laboratory tests or imaging that shows a tension headache. Rather headaches are diagnosed as tension headaches if the fit the general pattern below, and doctors don’t find another cause.

The general tension headache pattern

A long standing headache generally

  • occuring on both sides of your head
  • feel pressing or tightening (not pulsating)
  • are mild to moderate
  • are not worsened by physical activity
  • has no nausea or vomiting
  • has none or minimal sensitivity to noise or sound.
Upper trapezius muscle trigger point pain referral
An example: the upper trapezius muscle trigger points (x) referring pain to the head (red)

What causes tension headaches

Most medical journals and even the Mayo Clinic’s web site will tell you that the cause of tension headaches is unknown or uncertain (3–5)⁠. However many more scientifically oriented journals say that there are several causes, with the main one being referred pain from (myofascial) trigger points in the muscles of the head, neck and shoulders (1,6–19)⁠.

Trigger points are those tender lumps in your muscles that therapists find, and have been shown to refer pain as shown in this diagram. As testament to these being a main cause, the trial referred to in this article treated trigger points and fully relieve the headaches in 58% of the cases.

Why the difference in opinion? Medical researchers and journals rely heavily on drug company funds. If the doctors were told to look for trigger points the drug companies would sell less drugs. Unfortunately profits and funding come before people’s wellbeing.

What was done in the successful trial

Who were the patients

The patients were adults who had suffered from at least three tension headaches per week for several years.

What was done

Previous research had found that trigger points in the following muscles referred pain to the head. These were examined, and trigger points were treated using a pressure technique where pressure or pinching was used until the muscle relaxed, or for 90 seconds. This was only done once.

The muscles examined and treated

  • upper trapezius muscles
  • sup occipital muscles
  • sterncleiodomastoid muscles
  • splenius capitus muscles
  • temporalis muscles
  • occipitalis muscles
  • frontalis muscles

The results

58% of the patients had complete relief, while 42% had either partial or no relief.

How you can do this yourself

The techniques used are very simple and easy to apply on yourself. We have a separate guide Your complete guide to pressure points and massage for headaches- with self help advice. This shows:

  • how to examine for trigger points
  • several self treatment options
  • pictures and detailed treatment for each of the muscles.

How you may do even better

This was a simple trial that used just one application of therapy to test whether i) trigger points were involved, and ii) whether treating them would help, yet 58% had complete relief. Based on the results of several other studies (1,8,9,14,16,18)⁠ and 27 years experience as a chiropractor I believe we can do a lot better.

What could be improved

Repeated therapies

The trial only used one application of therapy. Sometimes several applications of therapy are needed to relieve a trigger point and more still to completely eliminate them. When self applied this is not an issue, as the therapy is easy, convenient and usually free.

Alternate self therapies that may be more effective

The simple techniques used in the trial are widely used, but our guide to pressure points and massage for headaches lists others that may be more effective.

Common problems associated with the upper spine can also be causing or adding to the headaches

Several studies have found that restrictions in the movement of vertebrae in the upper spine are usually associated with these trigger points and either add to the headaches or cause them in their own right. The trial did not deal with these, but you can.

How to add these improvements

It’s actually very easy to do these. We have complete, easy to follow instruction in our guide Your complete guide to pressure points and massage for headaches- with self help advice.


  1. Doraisamy K&, Gnanamuthu. Chronic Tension Type Headache and the Impact of Myofascial Trigger Point Release in the Short Term Relief of Headache. Glob J Health Sci. 2010;2(2):238–44.
  2. Chin J, Qiu W, Lomiguen CM, Volokitin M. Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment in Tension Headaches. Cureus. 2020;(December).
  3. Alnaim MMA, Bukhamsin SAA, AlBurayh YA, Alshadly MRS, Almaslamani KWM, Alatawi WLS, et al. Causes and Treatment of Tension Headache: A Review. J Pharm Res Int. 2021;(January):288–93.
  4. Shah N, Hameed S. Muscle contraction tension headache. NCBI Bookshelf. 2022;(November):1–7.
  5. Speciali JG, Eckeli AL, Dach F. Tension-type headache. Expert Rev Neurother. 2008;8(5):839–53.
  6. Fernández-Carnero J, Fernández-De-Las-Peñas C, De La Llave-Rincón AI, Ge HY, Arendt-Nielsen L, Johnson GW, et al. Prevalence of and referred pain from myofascial trigger points in the forearm muscles in patients with lateral epicondylalgia. Clin J Pain . 2007;23(4):353–60.
  7. Tali D, Menahem I, Vered E, Kalichman L. Upper cervical mobility, posture and myofascial trigger points in subjects with episodic migraine: Case-control study. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2014;18(4):569–75.
  8. von Stülpnagel C, Reilich P, Straube A, Schäfer J, Blaschek A, Lee SH, et al. Myofascial trigger points in children with tension-type headache: A new diagnostic and therapeutic option. J Child Neurol. 2009;24(4):406–9.
  9. Karimi, N. Tabarestani, M. Sharifi-Razavi A. Efficacy of Trigger Points Self-Massage in Chronic Tension-Type Headache: An Unmasked, Randomized, Non-inferiority Trial. Neurol Asia . 2021;26(February):323–31. Available from:
  10. Sedighi A, Nakhostin Ansari N, Naghdi S. Comparison of acute effects of superficial and deep dry needling into trigger points of suboccipital and upper trapezius muscles in patients with cervicogenic headache. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2017;21(4):810–4.
  11. Do TP, Heldarskard GF, Kolding LT, Hvedstrup J, Schytz HW. Myofascial trigger points in migraine and tension-type headache. J Headache Pain. 2018;19(1):84.
  12. Fernández-De-Las-Peñas C, Alonso-Blanco C, Cuadrado ML, Gerwin RD, Pareja JA. Trigger points in the suboccipital muscles and forward head posture in tension-type headache. Headache. 2006;46(3):454–60.
  13. Palacios-Ceña M, Castaldo M, Wang K, Catena A, Torelli P, Arendt-Nielsen L, et al. Relationship of active trigger points with related disability and anxiety in people with tension-type headache. Med (United States). 2017;96(13).
  14. Wang K, Castaldo M. Trigger points are associated with widespread pressure pain sensitivity in people with tension-type headache. 2018;38(2):237–45.
  15. Quinn C, Chandler C, Moraska A. Massage therapy and frequency of chronic tension headaches. Am J Public Health. 2002;92(10):1657–61.
  16. Jaeger B. Are “cervicogenic” headaches due to myofascial pain and cervical spine dysfunction? Cephalalgia. 1989;9(3):157–64.
  17. Kozal G. Myofascial Trigger Point Syndrome Effect on Chronic Tension-Type Headache Disorder.; 2008.
  18. Hsieh LLC, Liou HH, Lee LH, Chen THH, Yen AMF. Effect of acupressure and trigger points in treating headache: A randomized controlled trial. Am J Chin Med. 2010;38(1):1–14.
  19. Giamberardino MA, Tafuri E, Savini A, Fabrizio A, Affaitati G, Lerza R, et al. Contribution of Myofascial Trigger Points to Migraine Symptoms. J Pain. 2007;8(11):869–78.

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Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more

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