Tension headaches are the most common type of headache with mild to moderate pain described as a diffuse tight band around the head. The muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders may feel tender. The exact causes of tension headaches are unknown. Factors include stress, depression, anxiety, poor posture, working in awkward positions, and clenching the jaw for prolonged periods leading to increased muscular tension in the face, neck, scalp, and upper back.
Current research indicates that changes in numerous brain chemicals stimulate pain pathways to the brain and interferes with the brain’s ability to stifle pain. For example, lower than normal serotonin levels may cause the trigeminal nerve (the main sensory nerve for the head and face) to release neuropeptides that dilate blood vessels in the brain’s periphery leading to increased pressure and pain sensations. Tension headaches respond well to aromatherapy blends composed of analgesic and antispasmodic essential oils:
Analgesic: An agent that reduces sensations of pain as might occur with low back pain, tension headache, fibromyalgia, chronic muscular tension, or a muscle strain. Essential oils include bay laurel, black pepper, clove bud, eucalyptus, German chamomile, ginger, nutmeg, peppermint, rosemary, pine, silver fir, sweet birch, sweet marjoram, turmeric, and white camphor.
Antispasmodic (skeletal muscle): An agent that reduces skeletal muscle spasms as might occur with chronic muscular tension. Essential oils include Atlas cedarwood, bergamot, black pepper, clary sage, ginger, nutmeg, pine, Roman chamomile, silver fir, sweet basil, sweet birch, sweet fennel, sweet marjoram, and tarragon.
Experienced aromatherapists would blend three or four of these oils together and add them to a base lotion or oil in 3% concentrations. If you are new to aromatherapy try this blend:
- 1 ounce expeller pressed sunflower oil from the health food store
- 5 drops eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) essential oil
- 1 drop peppermint (Mentha x pipertia) essential oil
- 10 drops bergamot (Citrus x bergamia) essential oil
- 2 drops clove bud (Syzgium aromaticum) essential oil
Combine these essential oils in a one-ounce glass bottle with a flip-top lid and ask your partner or use self-massage to apply the blend to the back of your neck, shoulders, and upper back. The clove bud oil might irritate your skin if you apply a hot pack or try to soak in a warm bath after application. This blend is also a central nervous system stimulate so don’t use it directly before bed.
For more information about the therapeutic use of essential oils, check out the Aromatherapy Foundations – a comprehensive 8 CE ecourse designed for therapists who are serious about aromatherapy.