How To Prevent & Treat Headaches
03 September 2018
If you’ve ever had one, you don’t need me to describe the horrors of headaches to you. If you haven’t, picture this: it starts with a dull ache behind and around your eyes, which progresses into the sensation of somebody pushing red-hot knives into your temples, sending waves of pulsating pain backwards around the sides of your head. Light feels like needles and thinking hurts. You feel as though all you can do is pop some codeine (or Naproxen, or paracetamol, or Ibuprofen… the pharmaceutical list goes on), lie down in the dark, and attempt to sleep it away. Sounds pleasant, right?
Headaches are a very common disorder. They typically affect women more than men and they increase in frequency throughout late childhood and early adult life, typically decreasing after the age of 40. NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) estimates that approximately 6 million people in the UK suffer with regular headaches, with around 190,000 headaches attacks happening every day. Headaches are the third most common disease in the world, and is ranked 7th as the most disabling disease!
Headaches are so common that most people just accept them as a normal part of their daily lives and pop a painkiller so that they can carry on with their day, rather than trying to find and address the cause. Whilst it is widely accepted that headache disorder has a genetic basis, something so agonisingly painful and disruptively debilitating is certainly not normal or something that you should put up with. Sitting in front of your computer screen at work with sunglasses on, rubbing your temples as pain radiates through your head is not normal. Headaches can and should be treated—addressed properly, not just covered up.
There are many ways to manage headaches. The most obvious, and the one you are most likely to be familiar with, is to take strong painkillers. However, painkillers are just a quick fix to cover up the problem, and strong pharmaceuticals can have other undesirable effects—Naproxen can damage your stomach lining, Codeine is highly addictive, and Ibuprofen can cause stomach ulcers. Relying on medication can also result in what the Headache Trust call ‘medication-overuse headache’, which is the total opposite of helpful. Here are some alternative headache management techniques to try.
Know your triggers
There are a handful of common triggers linked to headaches. Identifying what yours are and modifying your lifestyle to avoid them is a good preventative measure for helping to manage headaches. One of the easiest to control is food; the worst culprits are often chocolate, caffeine, nitrates (commonly found in salty and cured meats, such as bacon and salami), cheese, nuts and wine (this is a really common one, sorry wine lovers!). Other triggers which can be harder to regulate include hormonal changes, stress, changes in sleeping habits, and neck tension. Understanding which of these are triggering for your headaches can help you to either modify your lifestyle or, if this isn’t practical, understand under what circumstances your headaches are likely to occur and preparing accordingly.
Although caffeine can be a trigger for some, in others it can actually provide pain relief due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It is commonly added to pharmaceuticals because it increases their effectiveness and therefore requires a lower dosage of the drug in order to provide relief. If you absolutely must take a painkiller for your headache, try taking a smaller dose and accompanying it with a cup of coffee to boost its effects (if caffeine is not a trigger for you). Half natural, half pharmaceutical!
Acupressure / Acupuncture
Headaches are one of the most likely health complaints to be treated with alternative medicine, and for good reason. A natural approach to pain relief eliminates the need for pharmaceutical drugs and increases the body’s overall resilience. Acupuncture has been found to have positive effects on the nervous system, including locally where the needles are placed, in the spinal cord and brainstem, where a ‘damping effect’ occurs on pain transmission, and in areas of the brain which regulate the emotional aspects of pain.
Acupressure is much more of a ‘DIY’ treatment—learning a few of the key pressure points and practicing them when you sense a headache coming on can be a quick and effective way to relieve pressure in your head.
We don’t mean to brag, but chiropractic really has been strongly proven to help reduce the pain, severity and frequency of headaches with long-term effects!
Studies have found that most common headaches are caused by a small misalignment (called a ‘subluxation’) in the spine—when your vertebrae are misaligned in this way, the nerves and muscles around them can become inflamed and sore. Most headaches are caused by damaged structures around the neck like joints, ligaments, muscles, and cervical discs, all of which have complex nerve endings. Poor posture can also contribute to headaches; spending all day hunched over a desk or phone puts strain on your neck and back muscles, which in turn makes subluxations and therefore headaches are more likely. Chiropractic treatment uses gentle manual spinal adjustment to correct these misalignments, which relieves pressure and therefore pain.
Give one (or all!) of these techniques a try and see what works for you—headaches are no joke, and you might just find your holy grail management technique in one of these. Good luck!