Into every life a few aches and pains fall. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 20 people in the developed world suffer with a daily tension headache. Before you reach for a bottle of pain killers, try these pain relievers first.
Understanding the Types of Primary Headaches
There is a lot of confusion over the types of primary headaches, those not caused by another issue, e.g. sinus headaches. Many people claim to have a migraine, when what they really have is a tension headache. The level of pain does not determine the diagnosis.
A tension headache is the most common type of headache and is characterized by pain that affects the whole head. Some sufferers experience the pain in the back of the head; others feel it across the forehead. Some people report a sensation like a tight band around the head or muscle tension in the neck and shoulders. Even though tension headache sufferers may be sensitive to light and sound, tension headaches tend to grow in intensity, which gives sufferers time to counter. They are typically not incapacitating.
There is a misconception that “migraine” means severe headache. While migraines can be painful, the name refers to a type of headache. Migraines result from specific physiologic changes in the brain that lead to pain. Those changes are fluctuations in certain neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that send messages between brain cells. Regular hormone fluctuations can be a trigger. Then again, so can consumption of certain foods or a simple change in barometric pressure. Migraine headaches are associated with symptoms such as: nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, blind spots, pain on one side of the head, numbness or weakness in the limbs. After puberty, migraines affect more women than men.
Cluster headaches tend to occur daily for periods of a week or more with long spans with no symptoms between episodes. They are caused by a sudden release of histamines and serotonin in the brain. Sufferers may experience symptoms like sharp pain behind one eye, one eye gets watery or inflamed, and/or the sufferer experiences a runny nose. This type of headache affects more men than women. Sometimes, eye pains can be a sign of something more serious so it’s important to get it checked out by a trained eye surgeon if it continues.
Headache remedies to try before reaching for a pill
If you’re like many of our patients, you prefer to only use medication as a last resort. Here are some remedies and treatments to try before reaching for that pain killer. (Did you know that overusing pain killers can make subsequent pain feel more intense?)
1 – Drink 16-32 oz of Water
Cigna Health reports that 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated. Health Factors suggests that 80% of all headaches are caused by dehydration. The idea is that dehydration causes blood volume to drop, which results in less oxygen rich blood flow to the brain and dilation of blood vessels and triggers the sensation of pain. So make sure you and your children drink enough pure water daily! What’s enough? Try this formula: Body weight/2 = Minimum number of ounces to drink daily.
2 – Essential Oil
Some headache sufferers experience relief by rubbing a bit of peppermint oil on their temples and on their necks.
3 – Cold Therapy
Apply a cold compress to the area for 15 minutes to slow blood flow and reduce inflammation. (Conversely, others find relief with warm compress therapy, but this is Dr. Duddey Sportscare, where we cheer for Elsa in Frozen, Frosty the Snowman, and the Snow Miser!)
4 – Peppermint Tea
If your headaches include a little nausea, go for a cup of peppermint tea. Peppermint has been used for millennia to calm muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. And herbal tea will also help rehydrate you.
5 – Acupuncture
While it may take a few treatments to dial it in, acupuncture can help chronic headache sufferers by reducing muscle tension and encouraging the release of painkilling endorphins.
6 – Activity
If you’ve been sitting in the same position for hours, it’s time to get up and get the blood flowing! Stretch periodically throughout the day
7 – Chiropractic Care
Your chiropractor can use a variety of treatments to offer relief to the headache sufferer. At a minimum, your chiropractor adjust your spine relieving any impinged nerves or rotated vertebrae. Massage or physical therapy treatments may be added to address muscle tightness and spasms to offer relief.
8 – Coffee
Sipping a small cup of coffee can provide the right amount of caffeine to block the neurotransmitter adenosine, which causes blood vessels to dilate and create pain-causing pressure. Caffeine constricts those vessels and relieves pain. This method is effective for people who consume about 150 mg of caffeine (about a 12 ounce coffee) daily. If you are a coffee achiever, your blood vessels may not be as responsive.
Sources that helped inform this article:
- New York Times, Really? The Claim: To Prevent Migraines, Drink More Water, 8/15/2011