Relief From Headache Pain

Could A Tight Muscle Cause Your Headaches?

Author: Julie Donnelly, LMT –The Pain Relief Expert

Editor: Dr. Steve Chaney

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving TurkeyNovember is one of my favorite months because it’s the beginning of the holiday season. There are so many holidays during these next two months, all of them joyful. The colors of the season are vibrant, the smells of delicious foods cooking are embedded in our minds, and spending time with our loved ones warms our hearts.

I come from New York and I love the beautiful changing of the leaves that happens in October, and then the way winter starts to ease into our days. If you come from any of the northern states, you probably have these same memories. Children jumping into huge piles of leaves and finally getting to wear my favorite sweaters and jackets again.

I can still smell the smoke lingering in the air as homes were warmed with fireplaces and cast-iron stoves. Shopping for that special gift for our family and friends, the Salvation Army bell-ringing volunteers, hot apple cider…the memories go on and on.

If you grew up in a warm weather State, you have different memories that bring joy to your heart. It is exciting to have this beautiful season starting again!

2020 is different than years before, challenging us to redesign the holidays. We all have our stories of how we’re being impacted by COVID19. I think this is a perfect time to focus our minds on all the things for which we are grateful. Show kindness and appreciation to everyone around us, people need it more than ever before. Count your blessings!

My prayer is that however you may be affected by all that is happening in the USA, that you will have a beautiful, happy, and healthy holiday season.

I Have A TEDx Talk Coming Up

If you have been to the office lately, you probably know I was chosen to do a TEDx talk.  My title is “The Pain Question No One is Asking.”

Headache PainPeople are suffering, yet a huge cause of pain is constantly overlooked!

The principle thought is, why isn’t anyone looking at muscles as a cause of pain during the diagnosis process.  My TEDx talk is only 9 minutes long, short and to the point.

I am most excited that my talk will bring this information to the awareness of people who are searching for answers to the cause of their pain.

It was originally scheduled for May 15th (which was also my birthday, so what a present!), but COVID19 prevented that from happening.  Then it was scheduled for November 20th, and it was still going to be live.  Oh well…COVID19 prevented that too!

So, it was finally decided to have each presenter do a video and submit it to the Team. There is going to be a two-day private presentation for everyone who has bought a ticket to the event. Ticket prices start at $17 for general admission, or $77 to be able to enter the VIP room and meet with each presenter. There are 20 presenters, with topics that range from muscles to health, from animal rights to the environment, and lots of other interesting topics.

If you would be interested in joining us, it will be held on Dec. 5th & 6th, on a Zoom “stage.” Just contact me (Phone: (919) 886-1861; Email: and I will make the arrangements for you to receive a ticket to the event.

The Muscle Of The Day

cruise shipBack when I worked on the cruise ship, which was my first job after getting my massage license in 1989, I studied what I called “the muscle of the day.”  Every day I would pick one muscle to really study.  Before the passengers would start coming in, I would list the name, location, action, origin point and insertion point of just one muscle.

I would give what I call “fluff and buff” to the entire body, except for the muscle of the day.  On that muscle I would go slow, a bit deeper, and when I found something that didn’t feel like the rest of the muscle, I would ask my clients for feedback.  They would tell me if it hurt or not, and where they were feeling it.

I worked on over 3000 people while I was on the ship (in just one year!) and by the time I got off the ship I was really confident that I knew what “hurt” feels like, and what “doesn’t hurt” feels like.  It is the foundation of my therapy practice.

My clients always are interested when I explain why a particular muscle is causing their pain.

With that said, I want to share a “muscle of the month” with you.  Each month I will take one muscle and we will talk about it for a few minutes.  I’m not trying to make you a muscular therapist, just give you a little info that will make sense when you have a painful condition.

Could A Tight Muscle Cause Your Headaches?

This month I want to share the #1 muscle that causes headache pain. When this muscle is tight it can cause headaches that are so severe that they are sometimes called migraines, and some people end up on strong medications to mask the pain.

Levator Scapulae MuscleThe Levator Scapulae originates on your first four cervical vertebrae and inserts into the inside/top of your shoulder blade.

As you see in the graphic the first two vertebrae have a special setup and it’s these two vertebrae that are causing the problem.

C1 is called “the Atlas” because Atlas held up the world.  C1 holds up your skull.

C2 is called “the Axis” because a piece of bone (called the Dens) pokes up through the center of C1. Your skull sits on this point and is the reason you can tip your head forward and back, as well as side to side.

Your brain goes into your spinal cord and the nerves travel through the center of the vertebrae and then go out to innervate every cell in the body from your head to your feet.

The problem is, when the Levator Scapulae gets tight (usually from a repetitive movement, such as holding your shoulders up when you are stressed) it pulls your cervical vertebrae to the side and down.  This causes the opposite side of the bone to press into your spinal cord, right at the base of your brain.

When someone comes into my office and says they get right-sided pain, the odds are the muscle tension is coming from the left side of the body.  As you release the tight muscle fibers, the vertebrae frequently realign by themselves (or you can go to a chiropractor) and the pressure is off your spinal cord.

Relief From Headache Pain




I have already shown you one method for treating this muscle by putting a ball on your shoulder and then leaving forward and pressing into the corner of a wall.







Here is another method. Put your opposite thumb into the hollow in the front of your shoulder, as shown in this picture





Treatment-For-Tight-Shoulder-Muscle-2Flip your four fingers over your shoulder. Be sure to go back far enough that you can grip a thick piece of muscle in between your thumb and fingers.

Have your elbow raised so it is horizontal to the floor.  It helps if you put your opposite hand under your elbow to hold it up.

Next, squeeze hard, really gripping the thick muscle.

Bring your elbow down close to your body.  Hold for 15-30 seconds.

At the end, continue squeezing and drop your head in the opposite direction so you are stretching the muscle.


Last Thoughts…

I really love helping my clients get better, so I would appreciate it if you would tell others about my work, and about my books/DVD’s etc.  My goal with everyone is to stop the pain that brought to me in the first place, and have you return each month for a tune-up until you are permanently pain free.   Depending on your situation this could take one session or multiple sessions, but I believe we can accomplish this goal.

If you have family or friends who aren’t local to Sarasota, please let them know that I do Zoom consultations for the same price as an office visit.  We talk about what is happening and then I can show them how to self-treat. With the both of us on Zoom, I can watch and make sure they are doing the techniques correctly.  It works really well. To date I have worked with people all over the world, including Australia, Switzerland, Canada, Egypt, and lots of other places.

To book a virtual Zoom consultation, just go to

If you have anything you’d like me to discuss, please email me at

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Which Muscles Are Affected By Stress?

It’s Time For The Beach

Beach At SunsetThis is a perfect time to go to the beach – August is hot and humid, and the water feels so refreshing.  Of course, we now need to socially distance ourselves from each other, but for those of us in Florida that is possible when we have so many beautiful beaches close to our homes.

Most of us are sticking close to home, and summer sure isn’t what it has been in years past. The baseball season was on – then off – and as of right now, who knows!  Most of the people I know are getting through this okay, I hope you are too!

Which Muscles Are Affected By Stress?

We are living in stressful times, and chronic stress can cause your muscles to tighten. When that happens, it can lead to pain in unexpected places. When you visit your doctor, they may recommend drugs or aggressive treatments.

Unfortunately, many doctors are unaware tight muscles can be the real cause of your pain. They don’t know that there are simple treatments that can release your tight muscles and relieve the pain – without resorting to drugs.

This week I will address the top 3 muscles that are affected by chronic stress and how to treat those muscles when they cause you pain.

Levator Scapulae MuscleLevator Scapulae: This is, in my opinion, the #1 muscle that gets involved when we are under stress.  The nickname for the Levator Scapulae is “the shrug muscle” because when it contracts normally you lift your shoulders up….you shrug.

The problem is, the muscle originates on your first four cervical vertebrae, and inserts into your shoulder blade. When you are under stress it is common for your shoulders to lift up. The muscle is held tightly, and a phenomenon called “muscle memory” keeps the muscle in the shortened position. Once the levator scapulae is “stuck” in a  shortened position, when you either bend your neck to the side (bringing your ear closer to your shoulder), or you lift something heavy with your arm, pulling your shoulder down, it pulls on your cervical vertebrae.

This causes your cervical vertebrae to move and puts pressure on your spinal cord right at the base of your brain. The Levator Scapulae has been proven, in my clinical practice, to be the #1 reason for severe headaches. When it gets tight it will pull the insertions at your neck and pull them to the side and down. This causes the bones to press into your spinal cord, right at the base of your brain, and you get a severe headache!

Last month I shared self-treatment techniques to release the tightness in your Levator Scapulae muscles and relieve your tension headaches. If you are suffering from tension headaches, these techniques can work wonders.

Intercostals: The Intercostal muscles are between each rib.  When you breath in, they expand, and when they contract, you breath out.  The problem is, when you are under stress you may hold your breath longer than normal, and muscle memory sets in, and they stay in the shortened position.

As this happens you lose the ability to take a good, deep breath.  This lessens the amount of oxygen that is in your blood and that goes out to your cells.  This can cause problems all over your body.

The solution to this problem is deep breathing exercises. A friend of mine, Tara Clancy, is an expert on breathing and how it affects your entire body.  You can check her out at

Masseter MuscleMasseter: Do you clench your teeth when you are under stress?  The muscle that causes you to clench your teeth is called the masseter muscle.  If you put your fingertips onto your cheeks, pressing into your back teeth you are on your masseter muscle. Clench your teeth, you will feel the muscle bulge as it contracts.

The masseter muscle (circled on graphic) is the muscle that contracts to enable you to chew your food.  Normally, as you chew the muscle shortens, and then lengthens as you put more food into your mouth.  However, if you are under chronic stress, and your teeth stay clenched, your masseter will shorten from muscle memory and put a strain on your jaw joint.  This is the cause of a condition called TMJ.

TMJ is a condition where your jawbone rubs, or “clicks,” over the bone that is just in front of your ear. It is painful, and over time it will damage the bones. When you are under stress and constantly clenching your teeth, you are shortening your masseter muscle. The now-shorter muscle prevents you from opening your jaw completely, for example, when you yawn. As you are trying to yawn your jaw flips over the bone, and it hurts.

Self-Treatment For TMJ

Several years ago, I had a client who had such tight masseter muscles that a dental surgeon was going to sever them so she could open her mouth.  This is a terrible solution because it would mean her mouth would hang open for the rest of her life. Fortunately for this client she had to get medical approval before she could have the surgery.  When Dr. Cohen (the doctor I worked with) felt her masseter muscles, he refused to sign the permission form. He told her that she had to see me first, and fortunately I was there at the time.  It took just 30 minutes for me to release the spasms and teach her how to do the treatment.  At the end of the session she was pressing into both masseter muscles and opening her mouth.  She did it easily and without pain!  She started to cry because she came within one day of having this unnecessary surgery. Her life was changed by just a simple self-treatment!

tmj pain treatment reliefPlace your fingers as shown in the picture to the left.  Clench your teeth so you can feel the muscles bulge.

Apply deep pressure on just one side for 5 seconds. Then release that pressure and apply deep pressure to the opposite side for 5 seconds. Go back and forth until it doesn’t hurt anymore.  Then find a different “hot spot,” and repeat.  Continue doing this until you can’t find any more tender points on your muscle and jaw.

To stretch the masseter muscle just press deeply into the original point on the muscle and slowly open your mouth wide.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Is Stress Causing My Headaches?

“It’s Summertime, and the Living Is…Stressful”

headacheIt’s hot out, the birds are chirping, the air is pretty still, and the rains are often torrential.  It’s summer and under normal circumstances things slow down as people take vacations or just go to sit at the beach or pool.  Normally, we would be singing that old favorite, “It’s summertime and the living is easy”.

But this year is different! This summer’s song could be, “It’s summertime and the living is stressful.

We’ve all been affected by COVID19 in some manner, life is more complicated for most of us, and stress-levels have increased for a lot of people. Since stress often causes headache pain, today’s newsletter is going to focus on relieving stress headaches.

Stress Can Tighten Your Muscles

Constant stress can tie your muscles into knots.   It is important to do things to relieve the stress that the current events are placing on your body.  Maybe you aren’t going to the gym, but you can go out for a long, fast walk.  You could even bring some light hand weights and be pumping your arms as you walk.  If you have access to a pool, swimming is a great way to get exercise without stressing the body – with social distancing, of course.

There are several muscles that cause headaches. Unfortunately, it’s rare that anyone in the medical field will check out muscles while looking for the source of headache pain.

Is Stress Causing My Headaches?

As I said above, chronic stress can cause your muscles to tighten, and tight muscles can cause headaches. I will discuss two of the main offenders today.

Treating Temporalis MuscleOne muscle that causes headaches is called the Temporalis This muscle is the shape of a fan and is at the temples of your skull, behind your eyes and above your ears.  It not only causes headaches. It also causes pain into your top teeth!

To treat your Temporalis muscle, take your three middle fingers and press on the muscle as shown in the picture to the left.

Find the tender point, only pressing enough to feel it, but not so much that you want to faint. Hold the pressure for a minute and then move your fingers slightly up and down, without sliding on your skin.

Release the pressure for about 15 seconds and repeat this sequence until the pain is gone.

Do this treatment on both sides of your skull.  Stay still on any “hot spots” as they are the actual spasm that is causing the problem. You’ll be surprised at how the pain and tenderness will diminish as you continue to do the whole treatment for just a few minutes.

Levator Scapulae MuscleAnother key headache muscle is the Levator Scapulae, a muscle that originates on your cervical vertebrae and inserts into your shoulder blade.  When this muscle is in spasm it will pull your cervical vertebrae to the side and down and press the bone into your spinal cord at the base of your brain.  

Looking at how the levator scapulae muscle attaches to the vertebrae in your neck will explain why it is an important cause of stress headaches.

The levator scapulae originates on the top four cervical vertebrae (see small box) and inserts into the top of your shoulder blade.  When the muscle contracts normally you lift up your shoulders. The nickname for this muscle is “the shrug muscle” because of its action.

However, when it gets tight it will pull the insertions at your neck to the side and down. This causes the bones to press into your spinal cord, right at the base of your brain, and you get a severe headache!

Fortunately, you can treat the levator scapulae muscle, release the tension on the cervical vertebrae, and by treating the muscles in the back of your neck that become involved as the vertebrae move, you can stop the headache. It usually takes a while, maybe even two days. I wish I could tell you it’s immediate, but the important thing is you can stop the pain.

If you have suffered from headaches and your doctor has tested you to be sure it isn’t something more serious, then you’ll be pleased with the results of the Julstro™ self-treatments.

Relief From Stress Headaches Caused By A Tight Levator Scapula Muscle

Let me take you through the treatment step by step.

Relaxing Levator Scapulae MuscleStep 1: Relaxing the Spasms in Your Shoulders 

 You start by relaxing the spasms in your shoulders. While it can be awkward at first, you can very effectively treat your levator scapulae muscle by using a ball and pressing into the corner of a wall.

Put the Julstro Perfect ball directly on the top of your shoulder. Then lean straight into the corner of a wall.

Move slightly until you feel the pressure being focused on the knot at the top of your shoulder.

This treatment is for both your levator scapulae muscle and your trapezius muscle.

Step 2: Treating Your Levator Scapulae Muscle. 

Once you have loosened up the spasms in your shoulders, continue working on the levator scapulae muscle. You can also treat both by squeezing them with your fingers. We’ll demonstrate by treating your right shoulder. Naturally, you can do the same treatment on the opposite shoulder.

Bend your left arm and support you elbow with your right hand. Put your left three middle fingers on your right Treating Levator Scapulae Muscle shoulder at the point where the shoulder and neck meet. It helps if you place it so your thumb and pointer finger are close to your neck with the middle finger being the working finger right on the junction, just a bit toward the back. Your four fingers should be crooked at each joint of the hand and your palm should be flat against your body.

Staying in the same spot, relax your arm with your elbow close to the middle of your chest. In this position you will probably have your middle finger directly on the spasm point. All the strength from this move is coming from your upper arm, not from your fingers. To do that you will simply make sure that your middle finger is on the sore spot and then pull your elbow down toward the floor. Your finger will be like a hook that presses into the spasm.

If you feel your fingers getting tired, you are using your hand to give strength and not your arm. Once you feel the difference, it will be easy to do again. After you have found the trigger point and you are adding pressure to it, continue pressing into the knot.

Treating Levator Scapulae Muscle 2Next, keep your hand in the same spot, still pressing on the knot. Take your thumb, flip over onto the front of your shoulder, and push it straight into the muscle. This will move your thumb to a place that will now cause you to be pinching the knot.

You’ll feel if you have it right. You should have a fairly thick piece of muscle between the middle finger and the thumb. You can inch your three middle fingers back a bit if you find you aren’t gripping the entire thickness of the muscle.

If all you are feeling is skin between your fingertips, go back and try again. When you know you have a thick piece of muscle, grip tightly and release. Do this four times for 15 seconds each time.


Step 3: Stretching the Muscles in Your Shoulder

Now that you have worked out the knots, you are ready to stretch your shoulder muscles. Rotate your head a bit Stretching Levator Scapulae Muscleso your ear is angled toward the front of your chest. By doing this you will be adding additional stretch to the trigger point and releasing it at the same time.

Finally, continue holding the muscle and move your head as shown. Hold this for 15 seconds and release the pressure. When you finish, release your grip and shake out your shoulders. Then do it again, three more times, holding each stretch for 15 seconds.

You will really feel a great deal of relief when you ease the tension in this muscle.  This process will become easy after you play with it for a while and get the hang of squeezing the ball of knots that are on the top of your shoulder.

Wishing you well,

Julie Donnelly 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Relieve Stress Headaches Naturally

What Causes Stress Headaches?

Stress is an unfortunate byproduct of the festivities of the holiday season. The holidays are supposed to be fun. But you are adding all the festive gatherings, Christmas shopping, and family drama to an already crowded schedule.

Then the New Year comes. This should be a time you can relax. But no, the holiday bills start rolling in, and you have the stress of figuring out how to pay them. Then, there are New Year’s resolutions. You know you should be making resolutions, but you also know you’ve never successfully kept them in the past. Now, that is real stress.






That stress often shows up as tight muscles and muscle spasms that can cause headache pain. If you already have one of my books, especially either Treat Yourself to Pain-Free Living, or The Pain-Free Athlete, you have the tools necessary to get relief.  You can look at the colorful charts and find the area where you are feeling pain or stiffness. Then look for the muscle name that is in the same color as the shaded area of your discomfort. Then, follow the arrow and it will bring you directly to the spasm(s) that cause the pain. The figures above show some of the muscles that can cause headache pain when stress causes them to get tight and spasm.

Relief From Stress Headaches

As you see in the charts above there are multiple places where spasms will cause headaches.  Actually, there are a lot more than this, but that’s why I wrote my “Pain-Free Living” book. It’s just too much for a newsletter.

Each of the spasms noted in these two charts can be treated by applying direct pressure onto the spasm and then holding it for 15-30 seconds.  Use as much pressure as you can, but it must always be in the tolerable range, this is NOT a “no pain-no gain” situation.  It is going to hurt because you are forcing toxins out of the muscle fibers, and the toxin is an acid (from lactic acid) so it burns. However, you’ll find that as you continue holding the pressure it will lessen.

After 30 seconds, keep your fingers in the same place but take off the pressure. Wait for 5 seconds and then re-apply the pressure.  It won’t hurt as much this time because blood has filled the void and it’s already starting to heal the muscle.

Keep doing this until you don’t feel pain anymore, and then look for another point.  I call these points “hot spots” because that’s exactly what they remind me of.

Feel around your head, your neck, and your shoulders and apply pressure on each painful point.  You’ll be pleased when you feel the results! If it’s stress related, your headache pain will be gone.

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