Treatment Of Headaches
Oh My Aching Head !!
• Written By: Steven Horne: The School Of Modern Herbal Medicine.
If you’ve never had a headache, count yourself lucky because 90% of all Americans have them at various times. Headaches are responsible for about 157 million lost workdays and are one of the top ten reasons why people visit medical doctors, accounting for about 10 million doctor visits each year. Obviously, headaches are painful and people want relief. And even though a headache isn’t a life-threatening condition, over three million people sought relief at hospitals in 2008 alone, costing an average of $1,900 per patient/per visit, or a total of $5.7 billion.
Headaches appear to be a simple problem, but they aren’t. Modern medicine has identified over 150 diagnostic categories for headaches. But most people don’t think about what may be causing their headaches; they just pop a pill and never address the issue. The question remains, however, “What is causing my headache?” and if you’re one of the 45 million Americans who suffer from chronic headaches the answer to that question can change your life.
Headaches can be caused by stress, eye strain, tension in the neck and shoulders, spinal misalignment, allergies, sinus problems, chemical sensitivity, physical injury, and even certain prescription drugs. So, rather than simply popping an analgesic or toughing it out, why not explore what is causing your headaches and get rid of them for good?
Types of Headaches
Although there are many types of headaches, most headaches fall into one of three broad categories: tension, migraine or cluster. Some other major types of headaches include post-traumatic headaches (caused by injury or accident), sinus headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) headaches, and allergy-related headaches.
Tension headaches are generally the least severe, but they are also the most common, afflicting about 90% of the population. As their name implies, they are typically caused by tension in the neck and shoulders, which can be brought on by stress, worry, insomnia, or working too long in front of a computer screen. They may also be caused by dehydration, caffeine, and digestive upset from certain foods.
Migraine headaches are the next most common type of headache and are much more severe. About 25% of women and about 8% of men get migraines at some point in their life. Migraines can be triggered by a wide variety of factors ranging from bright lights, loud noises, stress, odours and allergic reactions to alcohol, exposure to smoke, and eating certain foods.
Cluster headaches are the least common but the most severe. Only one percent of the population suffers from this type of headache, which has similar triggers to migraines.
The holistic approach and natural solutions presented in this article will help you better understand why you get headaches and help you choose the most effective remedies.
Headache Relief 101: The Basics
Headaches are a symptom of an imbalance in the body or some type of interference with normal body processes. While an analgesic can temporarily stop the pain, if you want lasting relief from chronic headaches you need to identify and resolve the underlying causes. These usually involve your diet and muscle tension, but they can also include the way you handle stress, neck and eye strain, and other factors that throw your body out of balance.
For starters, dehydration can cause headaches. Many people simply don’t drink enough water. If you have a headache, try drinking a couple glasses of water. This will often produce an immediate reduction in pain. Eye drops can help, but it’s even better to hydrate your eyes from the inside. To stay properly hydrated be sure to drink at least one-half ounce of water per pound of body weight per day.
Beverages and Foods That Can Cause Headache Pain
While you’re increasing your water intake, try reducing your consumption of caffeinated beverages (tea, coffee, energy drinks and soda) and alcohol. These beverages are all known to trigger headaches and can be dehydrating as well. If you do consume them, increase your water intake even more. It is also wise to avoid MSG, aspartame, aged meats and cheeses, and foods containing nitrates (bacon, hot dogs, cured lunch meats) as these substances have also been known to trigger headaches.
Certain foods trigger what a brain “allergy” of sorts. Histamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain and is also released during allergic reactions. In some people, certain foods trigger excess histamine production, causing migraines. Common foods that may cause this reaction include: chocolate, processed and pickled foods, smoked fish, chicken livers, figs, avocados, bananas, citrus fruits, nuts, peanut butter, onions, dairy products and gluten-bearing grains like wheat, oats, barley and rye.
If you suffer from frequent headaches, especially migraines, it may be helpful to keep a food journal. Record what you eat throughout the day and the time you eat it. Also record the times when you experience headaches. This can help you identify food triggers that may be making your head ache.
Relax and Relieve the Pain
Since muscle tension is the most common cause of headaches, find ways to reduce your stress and relax. If you work at a computer, make sure your monitor is positioned in a way that allows you to view it comfortably without straining your neck forward, up or down. And take a break periodically to stretch and do a little self-massage on your neck and shoulders. If needed, rub a little bit of a Topical Analgesic like Tei Fu oil or Tiger Balm into your neck and shoulders to ease the tension.
In severe cases, you may find that the services of a massage therapist or chiropractor will be helpful. Getting a massage is a great way to reduce stress and tension and can help reduce the frequency of your headaches. Chiropractors often relieve headaches by adjusting the vertebrae in the upper back and neck to release pressure on nerves.
If you’re under a lot of stress, try taking a Relaxing Herbal Nervine Formula (with key herbs like blue vervain, skullcap and valerian) to help your body relax further. To strengthen your body’s ability to cope with stress, taking an Adaptogen Formula containing Siberian Ginseng on a daily basis can be very helpful.
Also, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Fatigue and insomnia are known to increase muscle tension, which increases your risk of headache pain. Try an Herbal Sleep Formula (with key herbs like hops, valerian, skullcap, passionflower) to help you relax the tension in your body and get the sleep you need.
Alkalize Your Headache Away
Over acidity of the tissues increases tension and pain and may be an underlying factor in many headaches. Many people eat too many acid-forming foods, like meat and grains, without adequate intake of water, fresh fruits and vegetables. A Herbal Kidney Tonic Formula can help your kidneys flush acid waste out of your system more efficiently, especially if you increase water intake at the same time. These formulas have helped many people reduce their level of pain and tension, resulting in fewer headaches, reduced back pain, and less stiffness and pain in the joints.
Take it Easy on Your Eyes!
Eye strain is a common cause of headaches, and our modern lifestyle demands more from our eyes than ever before. For instance, staring at a computer screen or smart phone display all day forces your eyes to focus on near-field objects and track close range movement for long periods without letting them relax by looking away and focusing on distant objects for a while. This strains the eyes, which can lead to headache pain. Reading a book in poor lighting or watching TV for extended period can also strain your eyes. There are some simple precautions you can take to avoid such strain on your eyes.
For starters, make sure you view your computer screen, use your smart phone, read a book or watch TV in good lighting. Have your eyes checked regularly and wear glasses if you need them. Take regular breaks from close work, letting your eyes look up and focus across the room or at distant objects every 15 minutes. It also helps to stretch your neck and shoulder muscles backward to help them relax. You only have one set of eyes—take care of them!
Besides the general suggestions for headaches listed on this page of this article, the following recommendations provide specific remedies for relieving specific types of headaches. Be aware that chronic headaches may be a sign of other health problems, including infections (dental abscesses and ear infections), hypoglycaemia, heat exhaustion, diseases of the eye, thyroid problems, hypertension, hormonal imbalances, mini-strokes, and exposure to various toxins, side effects of medications, and head trauma or injury. So, if your headaches are persistent, be sure to check with a medical doctor to help you identify and correct the underlying problem.
Since most people reach for a remedy to ease the pain when they have a headache, it’s nice to know that there are some safer natural alternatives you can turn to when your head is hurting. There are many Herbal Analgesic Formulas These typically contain willow bark as the main ingredient. Willow bark contains a compound similar to aspirin called salicin. Salicin is a Cox-1 and Cox-2 inhibitor and acts both as an anti-inflammatory and a pain reducer by inhibiting prostaglandins. It’s not as strong as over-the-counter pain remedies, but it’s also safer. Other herbs in these formulas include California poppy, corydalis, feverfew,and valerian.
When you have a tension headache, it generally is felt equally on both sides of the head. The pain may be dull or squeezing, with a sensation that the head is in a tight band or a vice. You will also typically have tension and even soreness in your neck and shoulders.
The quickest way to ease a tension headache is to drink a lot of water and massage your neck and shoulders. Apply lobelia or magnesium oil while doing the massage for better results. Anything that helps your body relax will help ease the pain of a tension headache, including the taking magnesium internally and then lying down to relax.
Tension headaches are often caused by poor digestion and constipation. If you have digestive upset, acid indigestion or sluggish bowels, take something to clear out your gastrointestinal tract. For gas and bloating, try Herbal Infusions of peppermint or chamomile tea, ginger or enteric coated peppermint oil.
If you’re constipated, do something to relieve the constipation with a Herbal Bowel Powder. Generally speaking, the headache will go away as soon as the digestive tract is clear. Alkalizing the body is also helpful for easing problems with chronic tension headaches. This can be accomplished by eating more fruits and vegetables and less meat and grains.
Migraine headaches are generally more difficult to relieve than simple tension headaches. Migraines typically occur with vision disturbances or nausea. The pain may feel like your head is throbbing, pounding or pulsing. It also tends to start on one side of the head, although it may spread to both sides. Migraines are believed to originate in the brain due to neurotransmitter imbalances, which can change blood flow patterns in the head.
Migraines are often liver related and respond well to bitter herbs that help detoxify the liver. In most migraines it seems like too much blood and energy is flowing upward into the head. Bitters draw blood and energy downward into the digestive tract and eliminative organs.
For pain associated with Migraine headaches, try a good Herbal Migraine/Headache Formula. These typically contain feverfew along with and/or skullcap. Feverfew is a very popular herb for migraines because there are studies suggesting it can reduce both the symptoms and the severity of migraines in many people when taken regularly. It is important to understand that feverfew is not very effective at easing a migraine once it has started. When taken regularly, however, it can help prevent migraines and reduce both their frequency and severity.
Feverfew and other bitters work best on vasodilative migraines, where it feels like the head is pounding or exploding outward. Some people have vasoconstrictive migraines where the head feels like it’s being squeezed or there is a tight belt around the head. For people with this type of migraine, taking ginkgo biloba regularly may help. Ginkgo increases blood flow to the brain.
If you are prone to migraines, it may also be helpful to take a Herbal Liver Tonic Formula or do a cleanse. These remedies help clear toxins out of the liver and improve liver detoxification, which can help to balance neurotransmitters and reduce the frequency and severity of migraines. Where allergies are involved butterbur may be helpful.
Neck and shoulder massage can also be helpful for easing migraines. Apply lobelia and capsicum extracts (mixed in equal parts) to the neck and shoulders and then massage these areas to release any knots, pain or stiffness. Follow this with a Topical Analgesic like those mentioned earlier. You can also apply a drop of the Topical Analgesic to each temple. Many people have found relief from migraines within 20-30 minutes using this technique.
Cluster headaches are severe and often occur after a person falls asleep. The burning, sharp pain typically occurs on one side of the head, often around the eye. There is often swelling under or around the eye (or eyes), tearing, red eyes, runny nose, and a flushed face.
Cluster headaches may be caused by a lack of oxygen from congested sinuses or other problems. They may also be a sign of problems with the hypothalamus, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, nerve dysfunction, structural issues, or stress.
The massage to the neck and shoulders with lobelia, capsicum and a Topical Analgesic is often helpful. Also consider detoxification therapy, chiropractic care or craniosacral therapy. If you have problems with cluster headaches, work with your natural health care advisor to try to identify the underlying causes.
Sinus headaches are the result of sinus infections and are felt in the sinus areas above and below the eyes. However, not all headaches felt in this area are related to the sinuses. It is only a sinus headache when there is infection present. Along with taking Colloidal Silver and/or Goldenseal and Echinacea to combat the infection, fenugreek and thyme is a dependable herbal combination for sinus headaches. Inhaling the vapour of a head steam bath is also beneficial.
It is possible to get relief from headaches naturally. If these suggestions aren’t sufficient consult with a professional herbalist or other health care provider.
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