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Tenderness on Thigh Related to Headaches?

When you have a headache, is the area on your thighs tender when you push on in the area where your arms hit? How about when you don’t?

Your responses to my completely unscientific experiment gave mixed results. According to my acupuncturist, this area is more tender during a headache than when you’re headache free. This is true for some of you, the opposite for others, and irrelevant for those who have a tender spot all the time or none of the time.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t give you any conclusions, but my yoga teacher inadvertently saved the day. She mentioned in class that the ilio-tibial band, which happens to correspond with the exact area that you pushed on, is sore in many people.

Whether or not it’s related to headaches is up for debate. That’s no reason to ignore the soreness. Kelly, being an anatomy geek and yoga therapist, has written up a great description of the IT band and suggestions for reducing the tenderness.

By Kelly M. Pretlow
Certified Purna Yoga Instructor
The ilio-tibial band, commonly referred to as the IT Band, is a long segment of fibrous tissue that runs down the outer thigh. It originates in portions of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and tensor fascia latae. It attaches to the tibia, just below the knee joint. [larger image available here]

Many people feel tenderness or even pain along the IT band, and there are a number of explanations for it. Because this length of tissue starts in the muscles of the hip, tightness and imbalance in those muscles can lead to irritation of the IT band. For example, one of the major functions of the gluteus maximus is to externally rotate the hip/thigh (it has other functions — this is just one example).

If a person has a habit of standing and walking with their legs turned out, like a ballerina, then the gluteus maximus is in an almost constant state of contraction. The tighter that muscle becomes, the more it pulls the IT band toward it, causing strain along the band itself, or perhaps pain in the outer knee.

Runners often have pain along the IT band, but as a Purna Yoga teacher I have observed that much of the population has some degree of tenderness there. Whether it is due to activities, tightness, stress or muscular imbalances, there are a number of ways to find relief:

  1. First and foremost, posture must be addressed. No matter how much a person stretches, if they are often sitting with crossed legs, which externally rotates the hip/thigh, then they are still aggravating this tissue. Pinpointing postural habits and correcting as needed is key.
  2. Secondly, stretching the muscles from which the IT band originates will slowly but surely relieve the underlying physical issue. In Purna Yoga, we have a sequence called the hip opening series, which stretches the muscles of the hip, in turn allowing greater range of motion and freedom of movement (this series should only be taught by a qualified instructor).
  3. Thirdly, it is important to remember the role that emotions, stress, and psychological challenges have on the body. The muscles of the hip provide stability to the pelvis. The pelvis holds the energy of creation, along with many of our more “animal” instincts, fears, passions and urges. Fear, for example, can create a sense of “falling apart.” The body responds to fear by tightening up in order to, literally, keep it together. If a person holds a lot of basic survival fear, then that should be addressed as one of the factors leading to tension in the muscles of the hip, and therefore pain down the outer thigh.
  4. Nutrition and hydration play a large role in how well the body functions. Dehydration makes the tissue sticky, if you will, which limits its ability to flush toxins and by-products. A diet rich in processed foods, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dairy products and animal foods increases the overall level of acidity in the body. Internal acidity decreases healing rates, and increases the likelihood of disease. Remember, cells are constantly being “born” and need good nutrition in order to function well and be healthy.
  5. Hot baths with epsom salts, a muscle salve or other topical ointment with peppermint oil or similar can help one find short-term relief from the symptoms of IT band tenderness/pain.
  6. Regular practices that I have used which help immensely include: yoga (especially with a well-trained instructor who is familiar with this issue and its underlying causes), hip stretches, leg strengthening, massage therapy and physical therapy.

The IT band, while a source of discomfort for some, is a fabulous piece of bio-mechanical engineering. It provides stability to the leg, enabling humans to run. It is my hope that by learning some basic information about this tissue, readers can find ways to prevent or relieve discomfort. As with any physical pain, it may take some sleuthing to find the cause, but learning the tools to become or remain pain-free makes the detective work worthwhile.

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This Time Last Year, March 3-10

Posts from The Daily Headache, March 3-10, 2006

Nerve Stimulator-Imposed Restrictions
According to Medtronic’s Living Well newsletter, these activities might be harmful for people with nerve stimulators: using an electric blanket, skiing, sledding, golfing, amusement park rides. Would I have still gotten the implant if I knew about all these limitiations?

Woman Heartbroken After Ending Love Affair
After years of agony, I finally say goodbye to one of the great loves of my life.

Getting the Attention We Deserve
ABC News aired a piece on new treatments for migraine, the first of a three-part series on migraine. It appears to be a good step toward reducing the stigma of migraine.

Acupuncture & Birth Control Deja Vu
Results of new studies on these migraine topics were released.

Pain Resource: Doctors for Pain
Get a glimpse of this excellent website on treating and coping with chronic pain.

The Ultimate Question
I finally try to answer the question about my occipital nerve stimulator that I’m asked the most: How much does it help? Since I had my stimulator removed in September, this post now seems quaint.

News From Annual Pain Meeting
Studies discussed at the American Academy of Pain Medicine‘s meeting included nerve stimulation and opioid levels in the blood of chronic pain patients.

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Please Help Me With a Completly Unscientific, Unreliable Experiment

My acupuncturist told me about an interesting phenomenon and I want to know if it holds true for other people.

When you don’t have a headache, relax your arms at your sides and push on your thighs in the area around where your arms hit. Is the area tender more tender than on another part of your body if you were to push it, like your calves?

Repeat this when you have a headache. Are the spots on your thighs more or less tender than when you didn’t have a headache.

Revealing the phenomenon would further compromise this already compromised experiment. So leave a comment or e-mail me with what you find and I’ll reveal the “results” in about a week. (No fair cheating by looking at the comments on the post!)

The verdict, 03/26/07: My acupuncturist told me that when people have migraines, the area on their thighs becomes painful to the touch and is not sensitive otherwise. This didn’t hold up in my “experiment.” Some people describe the same thing my acupuncturist said; many describe the opposite. I thought that he’d hit on a neat phenomenon, but apparently not.

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This is About Me

I was at a park when my niece was three or four and she asked me to play in the sand with her. There was some reason that I didn’t want to do it, which I told her. Her response was, “This isn’t about you Aunt Kerrie.” I hear her little voice in my head every time I feel like I’m writing too much about myself here.

Usually I pay attention to it. In doing this, though, I’ve forgotten to update you on my progress. So, this is about me.

I haven’t had acupuncture since before Thanksgiving and can’t see that being without has made any difference. I’ve admitted to myself that my superior results after that one visit was probably not related to the acupuncture at all.

I stopped drinking the medicinal tea at Thanksgiving time too. I didn’t even finish the first week’s dose, so I have no idea if it would have been beneficial. I intend to give it another try in the next couple weeks. I stopped both this and the acupuncture because of outside circumstances, and will resume my visits in the next couple weeks. I haven’t given up, but my hopes aren’t high.

My low-pain stretch was brought to a halt Christmas Eve. I’ve had lots of migraines since then. It’s been great to know that the high energy self that I so miss isn’t gone forever. However, I’m more angry about my headaches than I was a few months ago. The what ifs are now abundant.

Legumes and I still don’t get along. I’ve stopped testing specific beans. Maybe some won’t cause pain, but why risk it? I’m starting to associate the smell of peanut butter with pain, which is actually a good thing. I’ll be thrilled when that smell no longer makes me wistful.

I didn’t realize how down I was about all this, but writing this post has made it pretty clear. It never ends and I get so tired of it. It’s hard to not feel defeated. Ugh, maybe it’s better to not reflect on my life.

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So Tired, So Frustrated

That sums it up. I’ve been exhausted since Thursday, was exhausted and had terrible migraines on Saturday, Sunday and today, and had a moderately painful headache lingering yesterday. No treatment seems to be working. Not that I’m surprised.

D, my acupuncturist and herbalist, and I agree that the headache-specific acupuncture points weren’t working for me. We’ve switched to a stress-reducing/anxiety-relieving/calming treatment. I had needlings Thursday, Friday and yesterday. I was exhausted before I went to every appointment — and still am — but my headaches haven’t escalated any of the evenings after a treatment.

I’m no longer simply grateful for the few hours of energy and clarity I got with one of my earlier treatments. Now my thoughts are about the mind that I’ve lost, the severity of which I only truly grasped after I had it back for a while. It’s been a month and I don’t see the mental fog lifting again.

It’s hard to not be discouraged.