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How to overcome headaches

Headaches are a nuisance! Everyone will experience a headache at some stage in their life, it is estimated that almost half of the world’s adult population have had a headache at least once within the last year. 1 

What is a headache?

A headache is described as pain located in any area of the head or face. The cause, duration, and intensity of this pain can vary according to the type of headache, lasting from hours to days and being mild or severe in intensity.

There are many different types of headaches and each one can be managed slightly differently from the other. 

The different types include:

1. Tension headaches

Tension headaches are associated with stress or musculoskeletal problems. Pain is usually described as a pressure band-like feeling around the head sometimes radiating into the neck. 

2. Hormonal headaches

Hormonal headaches more common in women than in men. They are due to hormone imbalance in the body. This type of headache can often mimic a tension or migraine type headache. These often occur once a month in a cycle around the end of a period or ovulation time. These types of headaches are also common during the 1st and 3rd trimester of pregnancy due to the changes in hormones. 

3. Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches are described as severe burning and piercing pain. They occur around or behind one eye. Sometimes swelling, redness, nasal congestion, eye tearing, and sweating can occur on the same side. 

4. Migraine

A migraine is an intense pulsing from deep within your head. This pain can last for days. The headache significantly limits your ability to carry out your daily routine. Migraine pain is throbbing and usually one-sided. People with migraine headaches are often sensitive to light and sound with nausea and vomiting also usually occurring.

5. Cervicogenic

Cervicogenic headaches often start at the back of the head or shoulders and radiate to the front of your head, above your eyes, and is commonly associated with stiffness and restriction in the neck These types of headaches can be brought on by stress or neck issues.

6. Sinus

Sinus headaches can sometimes happen due to allergies. Feelings of pressure around your eyes, cheeks and forehead and a throbbing pain can be associated with sinus headaches.

How you can relieve the pain from headaches

There are different strategies to relieving the pain of headaches.

  1. Stretching

Stretching the neck and mid-back is important to make sure you have good alignment of your posture and you are releasing any muscle tension in your neck and shoulders. These 2 stretches are my favourite.

The first is the seated Levator Scapulae Stretch.

The Levator Scapulae muscles are long and slender. It starts at the top vertebra of your spine and attaches to the scapular (shoulder blade).

  1. We start this stretch by turning our nose towards one of our armpits.
  2. Then placing the same side hand on the back of your head and pulling your head down towards your armpit.
  3. You should feel the stretch along the back of your neck down to your shoulder blades. 
  4. Hold for 30 seconds each side.

The second is the Kneeling Upper Thoracic Stretch

A lot of the muscles in our neck attach to the Thoracic Spine, so we must keep those muscles relaxed and flexible to not cause headaches. 

  1. Start by kneeling in front of a bench or box and place your elbows up on the bench about shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Kneel far enough from the bench that you have room to sit back and drop your chest through your arms to extend your spine.
  3. Then with your elbows on the bench, sit your butt back and relax your chest and head over, pressing your chest toward the ground so that you feel a nice stretch through your thoracic spine. 
  4. Try to lengthen your back as much as possible and drop your chest toward the ground between your arms. 
  5. Try to get your biceps by your ears as you extend your spine.

Each stretch should be held for 30 secs and done twice a day. 

2. Exercise

General exercise like walking, swimming, or riding for 45mins per day can be beneficial to promote good posture and alleviate a headache.

Corrective exercises like Yoga and Pilates, which focus on good posture and core strength can also help to reinforce and support the core muscles in our neck and back to make us stronger.

3. Keeping hydrated and eating nutritious foods

Dehydration is a very common cause of a headache so making sure you drink a minimum of 1.5lt a day (more if you exercise) is important.

Staying away from sugary processed food is also helpful as certain foods such as chocolate, red wine or sugar can bring on a headache or migraine at times. 

4. Improving posture

Good posture is key to a healthy spine and a healthy nervous system. Our spine is like a suit of armour that protects the nerves inside so the straighter our spine is the healthier we are.

We can improve posture through corrective exercises, stretching and chiropractic care. Also being aware of what causes bad posture from poor sleeping patterns to sitting at a desk for too long can be harmful. 

Being aware of poor posture is important so you do not develop bad postural habits.

Making small adjustments, like moving your rear-view mirror a little higher in your car reminders you to lengthen your spine and intermittent standing at your desk will help relieve stress the muscles in your back.

5. Plenty of sleep

Sleep is so important, so your nervous system gets a chance to relax and recover.

Making sure you get plenty of sleep, between 6-8hrs a night is a great way to make sure our body is well-rested, repaired and refreshed for the day. Getting lots of sleep is also great to help alleviate some of our other life stresses.

6. Reducing stress levels

Stress often can cause or contribute to a headache, especially tension or cervicogenic type headaches. Stress elevates our blood pressure, heart rate and tension in our muscles, which can lead to headaches. Exercise, mindfulness, or meditation is a great way to reduce our stress levels so our body can adapt better to its environment. 

References

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/headache-disorders
  2. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/headache-disorders
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/headache/types-of-headaches#allergy-or-sinus-headaches
  4. https://redefiningstrength.com/thoracic-extension-exercises-thoracic-bridge/
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