Health & Body

What to Do When a Headache Strikes During Rehearsal

Follow these steps for relief from tension headaches. Photo by Thinkstock.

Tension headaches are often experienced by those in high-stress careers (ahem, dancers). Here's how to identify them and what to do when they strike.


Know the feeling: A dull, aching sensation, almost like a tight headband is squeezing your head

How to deal: If you get a tension headache while you're dancing, take an over-the-counter painkiller (like Advil or Tylenol) when you first feel it, says Dr. Lauren Borowski, an assistant professor in primary care sports medicine who works with dancers at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Medical Center. Or, you can try the exercises she recommends below.

Get physical: Step to the side of the studio or utilize your break time to try sub-occipital release therapy. Put two tennis or lacrosse balls in a sock and lay your head on top of it with the balls pressing against the base of your skull perpendicularly. Let your muscles relax around those pressure points. It may take several minutes, so stay in this position until the pain starts to ease, says Borowski. You can also ask a friend to lightly squeeze your trapezius muscles (the area where your neck meets your shoulders) while you breathe into the area for a release.

Prevention: To keep tension headaches at bay, Borowski recommends sleeping at least seven to eight hours a night, staying hydrated and eating a balanced diet. Since doctors think stress is a trigger, find ways that help you reduce stress and anxiety. Borowski warns that you should never take OTC painkillers for headaches more than two to three times a week. If they're occurring that often, see a primary care doctor for long-term management and to rule out other issues.

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