Tis‘ the season for … Sinus Congestion!

As we ebb toward winter, autumn is usually hallmarked by the changes in foliage, falling temperatures, family gatherings, and also an increase in symptoms.  Sinus congestion has become a norm now, with many people experiencing facial restriction and discomfort that comes with both acute and chronic sinus congestion.  Many of my clients present with these all too common symptoms of tightness in their facial bones.  

My theory for facial symptoms is that in addition to symptoms of congestion that manifest physically, life itself can also feel increasingly tight and stressful.  Our outer experiences contribute to where in our bodies our relationship to stress manifests.  Mobile and unrestricted facial bones can signify a more flexible approach to life, while tightness and restriction can signify rigidity in our relationship to life.  This could be because our face is the part of our body that ‘faces’ life, a symbolic aspect of our face. Consider how it might feel to have a softer, less congested face.  I have seen patients reduce or even eliminate sinus congestion after just a few sessions of Craniosacral therapy, with improvement in brain fog in addition to head and neck tension.

Sinus congestion or compression can also decrease in your ability to inhale through one or both nostrils, which can even switch sides.  This can cause pain in the area beneath, behind, inside, and above your eyes, an uncomfortable fullness in one or both ears, and even a partial decrease in your sense of taste and smell.  

  For those of you who struggle with chronic sinus congestion, this can include a decrease in your ability to breathe effectively through your nose coupled with tension throughout your face, including around the eyes and in the cheekbones.  Usually, this kind of congestion doesn’t respond to sinus or allergy medication and can occur year-round.  

Many physical ailments, such as migraines and TMJ issues, are typically the result of many contributing factors and sinus congestion is no exception.  Potential environmental causes for sinus congestion include dust and other allergens that are rendered airborne through the activation of heating systems, coupled with closed windows to keep the heat inside.  Another source of sinus congestion includes inflammatory foods that are abundant during the holidays, which also cause changes in the bowel flora. This can cause a reactive immune response on its own, and an exaggerated one when exposed to bacteria and viruses.  This can lead to increased production of mucus along with the inflammation of the sinus passages.  Additionally, experiencing ‘stuck sinuses’ following a dental visit is not uncommon, especially if your jaw was held open for an extended period of time during a dental procedure.  Lastly, TMJ clenching and grinding, typically paired with high degree of stress can exacerbate the severity of facial congestion, and may even lead to tension in the orbits of your eyes. 

Often, the obstruction created by the above-listed causes can be tolerable.  If not relieved, this can create a ‘stickiness’ of the bones of the face.  Like any other joint in your body, the bones in your face and head can be also compressed or restricted. Like the other joints, the restriction can result in a decrease in Range of Motion (ROM), and an increase in pain, dysfunction, congestion, and discomfort.  

As a Certified Craniosacral therapist, I use gentle techniques and adjustments to assess and mobilize each of the facial bones, a process that most clients find enjoyable and relaxing.  In most cases, clients experience shifts and improvements in facial tension with each subsequent session. They can tell if these techniques will work for them by the end of the first session. Along with their face feeling softer and more open, a decrease in head and neck tension is a welcome accompaniment. 

I typically suggest a short series of 3-5 weekly sessions, then biweekly for a month or so, then decreasing the frequency of sessions to once per 4-12 weeks for regular maintenance, depending on how your connective tissue accepts the adjustments. Longer periods of chronic sinus congestion or compression may require a bit more intervention to override any established tissue memory. 

Some suggestions for decreasing the influence of contributing factors to sinus congestion:

Get regular bodywork.  Craniosacral therapy directly mobilizes the bones of the face.  Other modalities that are helpful for supporting circulation and health include massage, acupuncture, lymph drainage, visceral manipulation, homeopathy.  For many, bodywork is a form of physical medicine, and may be an effective and relaxing alternative to medication that carries unwanted side effects. 

  Contact your primary care physician if you’re unsure about whether your sinus symptoms are due to allergies or if you have a sinus infection or suspected COVID infection.  A total loss of smell and/or taste can be a symptom of COVID, although chronic sinusitis can also cause this.  You may need an antibiotic if your sinus infection is bacterial.  

Invest in an air purifier with a HEPA filter for your home to lessen or diminish the influence of dust and allergens, especially in rooms where you spend significant periods of time.  Change filters regularly. 

  Make sure you change your furnace filter in the Fall and more frequently if needed.

Drink plenty of water.  6 to 8 twelve oz. glasses are recommended daily.  Avoid intake of beverages that are caffeinated, laced with preservatives, food colorings or contain added sugar or aspartame.  

Get moving. A great way to ease congestion and get your fluids flowing can be through daily exercise. Even walking can make your body fluids flow more freely.   

Avoid inflammatory foods. Their impact can last for weeks after consumption. Make healthy, organic food choices.   

  Be proactive about managing stress.  Access the practitioners at The Ommani Center if you need support and guidance while under stress.  

To you and your family, I wish you all continued health and effective facial breathing throughout this holiday season.


December 2020, Emily Klik, LMT, CST is a CranioSacral Therapist at Ommani.  She sees clients who are free of symptoms on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call our office at 262.695.5311 to schedule an appointment.