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Self Massage for Sinus Pressure and Congestion

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

Here’s a short post with a few suggestions you can try at home for releasing sinus pressure you may be feeling from a lingering cold. Each year I see many cases of people with colds and congestion that won’t go away. After a visit with the doctor and antibiotics you may still feel congested or like your nose and ears are blocked or full. There are a variety of reasons why some people keep a lingering sensation of sinus pain and pressure and also a variety of ways to encourage decongestion. If you’ve already tried seeing your doctor and pharmacist and decongestants and nasal rinses haven't worked for you, maybe give some of these a try or make an appointment with an osteopath or manual therapist who can try some alternative ways to get things flowing.

These techniques are also great for parents to do on their children in the comfort of your home when a cold is starting to keep things flowing (and on teething toddlers at any time of the year). Congestion is not our friend. Happy tissues and joints enjoy the benefits of good circulation (most of the time). I have been sharing these suggestions with clients over the years, making slight modifications here and there. You can try them all at the same time (one after the other) or any of them on their own to see if they help. I have put them in the order I would suggest you follow if you do try them altogether.

1). Sternocleidomastoid muscle self massage

  • Massage the insertion point of the Sternocleidomastoid muscle (SCM) which is located behind the ear on the mastoid process of the temporal bone

  • To located the correct area, place a finger behind and just below your ear, turn your head gently away (in the opposite direction) and you should feel a tightening of the tissue beneath your finger. If you follow this muscle in a downward motion you should feel it going down your neck to your clavicle and sternum area. If you do, you’re in the right spot

  • This tissue should feel a little tight for most people, and very tight for others.

  • Gently massage for 5 minutes in a downward motion. This may be easier to do with the neck slight turned away.

  • You can massage the whole muscle, but spend a lot of your time at the upper portion just below and behind the ear.

2). Submandibular and digastric self massage

  • With both thumbs, trace the outline of your jaw until you’re up at the top, just below the ears

  • Now, let the thumbs gentle sink into the tissues just below the jaw applying a small pressure.

  • You can do one side at a time if you find it very tight or hard to do.

  • As your thumbs sink into the tissues hold the pressure for at least 20 seconds.

  • You may feel a tickle in your throat or the need to clear your throat. This is good, keep applying the pressure and clear your throat, stopping as you need to.

  • Then, move the thumbs down a few centimeters and repeat the process of letting your thumbs sink into your tissue with gentle pressure and hold for 20 seconds.

  • Keep repeating the process while following the whole length of your jaw until you end up just below the front of the chin

  • If any spots feel tighter than others you can stop for longer or go back and repeat the applied pressure. Allow the thumbs to sink in as deeply as is comfortable

  • This is a great technique for parents to do on children but instead of using your thumbs you can use the balls of your finger tips, as shown in the picture below.

  • With the child in a reclined position, the fingertips work best but if a small child is sitting on your lap facing away from you, you can use your thumbs and proceed as you would on yourself described above, stopping if the child provides any resistance or is uncomfortable.

3). Sinus Effleurage

The goal of the effleurage is to move in a stroking or sometimes a circular massage movement in order to encourage lymphatic fluids and excessive mucus production to circulate and drain.

  • Using both hands, take your index, middle and ring fingers (or just the index and middle for those with larger hands) and massage strokes in a medial to lateral motion (middle to outer edge of the face) for the following areas listed below

  • 20 strokes with a firm but comfortable pressure should be applied before moving on to the next area and the strokes should always try to end near the SCM muscle we talked about earlier (see picture above) until you get to the jaw where you end in the throat

  • It is recommended to do both sides at the same time in a rhythmic motion but one side at a time can be done as well if it is too difficult to do both

Massage each of these areas with 20 firm but comfortable strokes from the midpoint to the outer edge of the face, and further out to finish in the area of the ear/insertion of the SCM muscle (see picture above)

Apply the strokes to these areas:

o The top of the forehead across and down toward the ears

o Just above the eyes on the supraorbital surface across and down toward the ears

o Just below the eyes on the Infraorbital surface across and down toward the ears

o The side of the nose out toward the cheek bones and down toward the ears

o The top of the jaw bone from top to bottom finishing at the chin

o The Submandibular tissues we described in #2 top to bottom finishing at the chin

  • The last step is to then massage the front of your neck from just under the chin down to the clavicle finishing at the clavicle

  • For an added step you can also apply the same stroking movement from just below the clavicle, starting at the sternum and finish out toward the front of your shoulders.

  • If this feels good you can continue for one more step applying the strokes across the top of the ribs, again in an outward motion toward the armpits

4) Ear opening

  • Gently pinch your ear lobe and pull in a downward, outward and backward direction (this should follow the same direction as your shoulder)

  • Hold for 15 seconds

  • Repeat for the opposite side.

  • You can do this 2-3 times, alternating sides or doing both at the same time

  • You may also feel the urge at this time to open and close the jaw. If it feels good you can do it and it may help encourage the release.

  • If you're doing this on a child, remember that the pressure is gentle and it can be held for less time. You can encourage the child to open and close their mouth while you apply the ear tug to make it more interactive and fun for them and even have them move their open jaw side to side. Keep in mind that as their ear may already be sensitive, refrain from doing this is they show any signs of resistance or discomfort.

Other self massage and release techniques exist; these are just a few that are gentle and safe to try on yourself or your child. I am often prompted to show people how to do these in the clinic so they can continue to work on their sinus drainage at home after an appointment and also for prevention the next time they get a cold.

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