Written by Jennifer Hyland, RMT 

Pounding, driving, aching pain that wouldn’t go away…that’s how a patient described her sinus headaches to me. She was averaging 5 headache days per week, sometimes cancelling plans with family to stay home. Working together, she gradually went down to 2 days a week, and eventually a full week without headaches as her sinus health improved.

Our sinuses are hollow passages in our facial bones, that help to filter and add moisture to the air we breathe. When they get irritated, they produce extra mucus (snot) which can drain out your nose or down the back of your throat. When the irritation is severe, the narrow drainage pathway into the nose gets blocked, and pressure builds up in your inflamed, congested sinuses. This can cause symptoms like headaches, ear pain, facial pain and dizziness.

In chronic sinusitis, you might not notice a clogged nose, but can feel pressure in your face and suffer from frequent headaches. One way to distinguish a sinus headache from a tension headache or migraine can be to touch along your cheekbones, the bridge of your nose, and eyebrows. If you feel more sensitive in these areas than the rest of your face, it’s a strong indication of a sinus headache.

To relieve the pain of a sinus headache, I recommend facial massage, including manual lymphatic drainage. The slow, gentle technique opens the lymphatic precollectors, letting built up inflammatory fluid drain into the lymphatic network, reducing local inflammation. At the same time, because it is a slow and rhythmic technique, your touch receptors pick up on the sensation and it interferes with the painful signal that your inflamed sinuses are sending. After a series of 4-6 treatments, you’ll notice that your headaches are no longer present, and your sinuses are more clear. If the sinus inflammation hasn’t had a chance to enter the chronic stage, you may find that just 1-2 treatments will relieve the pressure. If you’re prone to sinusitis, maintenance treatments every 4-6 weeks may ward off complications and sinus headaches.

As well as maintaining sinus health with manual lymphatic drainage, you can work with your full healthcare team to take care of any dietary or environmental factors that might be contributing to sinusitis. Once your sinuses are clear, managing symptoms at the first sign of congestion can help keep you feeling better. You can try At home, you can alternate warm (2 minutes) and cold (1 minute) compresses, try a neti pot, breathing exercises, and use aromatherapy to reduce sinus pain and inflammation.