Studies show that stretching can help reduce the frequency and duration of headaches. People can try neck, shoulder, and back stretches to relieve tension.

Stretching can be a helpful tool to use alongside other treatments and medical interventions for headache relief and prevention. Healthcare professionals think stretches for headaches work by relieving tension in the upper body and reducing stress.

A variety of stretches can help relieve tension in the neck, shoulders, and back. However, if headaches persist or a person experiences migraine, they should contact a doctor.

This article explores how stretches can help with headaches and offers some techniques, including stretches and pressure point massage.

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Stretches can help reduce the incidence and severity of headaches.

Research has shown that yoga-based stretches can reduce tension and stress. If a person does them regularly, they can help with headaches. This may be partially because there is an association between headache progression and muscle pain.

One 2021 study found that myofascial release and stretching can improve migraine symptoms. Myofascial release is a therapeutic technique that uses stretching and pressure to restore range of motion.

It can be useful to try different stretches and assess which ones work best for each individual, as people’s responses can vary.

Before trying stretches for headaches, a person should seek advice and support from a healthcare professional. To prevent muscle tension or injury, it is important not to strain when stretching.

Below are six stretches for headaches and how to perform them.

Neck stretch 1

  1. Sit straight.
  2. Keep one hand at the side and place the other on the back of the head.
  3. Turn the nose toward the armpit of the arm that is on the head.
  4. Gently push the head down toward that armpit until a stretch occurs in the back of the neck. Hold.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Neck stretch 2

  1. Sit straight.
  2. Keep one hand at the side and reach the other hand up. Place it on the side of the head.
  3. Pull the head down so that the ear moves toward the shoulder and a stretch occurs in the neck on the opposite side. Hold.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Back stretch 1

  1. Sit straight.
  2. Reach with the right hand and place the back of the hand on the outside of the left knee.
  3. Looking over the left shoulder, push the right hand against the knee until a stretch occurs in the back. Hold.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Back stretch 2

  1. Kneel on a yoga mat or the floor with big toes and knees touching. Sitting back, rest the buttocks on the heels or as close as possible. Alternatively, open the knees, keep the heels touching, and place the forehead on the floor.
  2. Bow forward, lowering the torso onto the thighs, and rest the forehead on the floor. Place a pillow or yoga block under the forehead or between the buttocks and heels if needed.
  3. Reach the hands toward the top of the mat.
  4. Allow the spine to stretch, gently pressing the buttocks to the heels and stretching the arms forward.

Shoulder stretch 1

  1. Start on the hands and knees with the tops of the feet on the floor.
  2. Place the hands shoulder-width apart and the feet and knees hip-width apart.
  3. Lift the right hand and reach under the left arm and as far through as it can comfortably pass. Lower the right ear and shoulder to the floor. Hold.
  4. Repeat on the other side.

Shoulder stretch 2

  1. Stand with the back flat against a wall.
  2. Extend both arms so they point forward. Bend the elbows so that the hands point up to the ceiling.
  3. Slowly move the arms up and down so the arms straighten and bend at the elbow. Keep the arms and back flush to the wall.
  4. Repeat.

There is limited research to support the use of pressure point massage for headaches. However, pressure point massage can relieve tension and may therefore support headache relief.

Pressure point massage works by applying firm pressure to specific points. However, this pressure should not be painful.

Some pressure points for headache relief include:

  • pinching the point between the thumb and first finger
  • pressing between the eyes, at the top of the nose
  • pinching the top of the nose, between the eyes
  • pressing the top of the neck, at the base of the skull, on either side of the spine

Learn more about pressure point massage for headaches.

Headaches can interfere with a person’s daily life.

Some research suggests that stretching can help reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches.

Stretches that relieve pressure in the neck, back, and shoulders may be particularly useful.