Handle your headache – naturally

We live in an age where the easiest solution for a headache is to simply pop a pill. Yet countless studies warn of the side effects of over-the-counter drugs, and ironically, painkiller overuse is the third most common cause of headaches.

Debbie Willimott goes in search of alternative headache busters that treat more than just the symptom.

We live in an age where the easiest solution for a headache is to simply pop a pill. Yet countless studies warn of the side effects of over-the-counter drugs, and ironically, painkiller overuse is the third most common cause of headaches.

Debbie Willimott goes in search of alternative headache busters that treat more than just the symptom.

Your Sinuses

How does it feel? The pain is localised at the front of the face and head and feels like built-up pressure. You’re repeatedly pinching the bridge of your (blocked or runny) nose to relieve the pain.

Rather than a pill... "Try facial massage," suggests headache expert Garry Trainer (www.garrytrainer.com), who, as a professional Acupuncturist and osteopath regularly sees clients suffering from head pain of countless causes. "To ease the pressure - and consequently the headache, push against the bone just underneath the point where the eyebrow starts, to the side of the nose. Now massage firmly but gently down alongside the nose on each side." Another ‘miracle soother’ according to Garry is the acupressure point Colon 4, known in Chinese as ‘The Great Eliminator’. Turn your hand palm-down and tuck your thumb tight against the side of the forefinger. A lump will ‘pop up’ at the base of the crease between thumb and finger on the back of the hand which, when rubbed, will feel quite tender. Massaging here moves blocked Chi (the Eastern word for energy) and is a highly effective pain reliever.

Your Neck

How does it feel?  Sharp and burning – sometimes with a shooting sensation, as well as restricted neck movement. ‘There may also be pins and needles in the hand,’ explains Garry. ‘This pain will be felt specifically in one or two digits, as the nerves run from the neck into each pair of fingers.’

Rather than a Pill... Visit an osteopath. ‘They can bring immediate relief if there’s a problem with a disc in the neck that’s referring pain into the head,’ says Garry. "The discomfort of a muscular neck-related headache can also be lessened by gently tipping your head in the opposite direction to the side where the pain is and stretching gently.  Icing the area will also help, as there is likely to be inflammation. Cold moves blood away from the area and reduces the pressure causing the pain.’

If you’re a regular sufferer of head pain due to a referred neck injury such as whiplash, certain Yoga postures can really help. Taking Child’s Pose (Balasana) for two minutes a day allows the spine to be stretched to its full length and can bring considerable relief – and ultimately healing to even old injuries. Or try this gentle neck release daily: stand in Mountain Pose (Tadasana), tailbone tucked under, feet hip-width apart, shoulder blades moving down the back. Feel the crown of your head moving towards the ceiling. Maintain this as you gently drop your left ear towards the left shoulder and reach over and place your right palm on your right ear. Make sure you’re constantly facing forward, chin tucked in. Breathe deeply into the muscle for two minutes. Now with your right hand gently add pressure while further dropping your left shoulder until you almost feel discomfort. Breathe for another minute. Repeat on the other side.

Your Diet

What does it feel like? Quite often migraine headaches are brought on by a dietary issue. You may suffer after eating foods such as cheese or chocolate, or drinking beer or wine because they contain histamine and/or other vaso-active compounds, which can trigger migraines by causing blood vessels to expand and create pressure.

Rather than a Pill... "Address your diet," urges Nutritional Therapist Lisa Wulf (www.thenutrtioncoach.co.uk). "Looking at possible food allergies, intolerances or drops in blood sugar and making the necessary dietary adjustments might help alleviate recurrent headaches and migraines. Firstly, try gradually cutting out the foods above-mentioned to see if this helps." Wulf recommends eating a well balanced, nutrient dense, whole-food diet with high quality protein and (anti-inflammatory) essential fatty acids. "Other vitamins and minerals that may well combat a headache - and should therefore be included in your diet - include foods rich in B Vitamins, especially B1, B2 and B3, so switch to a diet rich in wholegrain products - brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, wholegrain cereals. Also include eggs and green leafy vegetables. Studies have shown that supplementing a diet with B2 or B3 can significantly lower migraines." Wulf also advocates organic eating where possible. Non-organic food and artificial ingredients force the body to work harder to try and eliminate these chemicals. This can lead to further dysfunction, which can register as headaches. "There is still debate as to whether the cause of menstrual migraines are due to low levels of certain minerals like calcium and magnesium," says Eva.  "To help, supplement with calcium and magnesium BEFORE your period comes to help avert the headache." Top up your diet with magnesium power-foods such as nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin and sunflower), fish and spinach.

Your Posture

What does it feel like? A dull, constant headache that’s worse in the morning and eases up through the day. The ache may also change location daily and radiate into the neck and shoulders.

Rather than a Pill... Pay attention! "Letting the head sit too far forward while (particularly) at a computer screen puts stress on the muscles of the neck and upper back and shortens the muscles in the front of the neck," explains Eva Urbaniak, ND, a naturopathic doctor practicing in Seattle, USA (www.docevaonline.com). "The only time you can do something about bad posture is when you notice it," adds Garry. "And when you do notice, act. Note the position you’re always holding – and find it’s opposite.  Now move into that as regularly as you can. Heat will help - it improves and invigorates circulation. When circulation’s slow, squashed muscle contracts and tightens further.  And this will make the headaches even worse". Strengthening your core muscles is also a must. Garry suggests this regular exercise with a Swiss ball:
Place the ball under your shoulders (feet braced on the floor) and roll your body forwards so that the ball is supporting your head. Now roll straight out of the position. Resume the position and hold for five seconds before rolling out. Repeat but hold for 10 seconds. This will engage the core and strengthen the muscles which when weak, primarily contribute to slumping and bad posture.

Your stress levels

What does it feel like? There’s likely to be pain behind the eyes or at the base of the neck, as it is here that all muscles attach to the skull - and stress is predominantly muscular tension. As such, the headache may be worse in the morning because this is when circulation is at its most sluggish. You may also feel nausea. "The Vagus nerve runs from the neck to the stomach," explains Garry.  "So stress tension can cause a sick feeling."

Rather than a pill... "Acupuncture is extremely effective," says Garry. "Science has found it releases endorphins, which have a similar chemical structure to morphine and significantly reduce pain and tension."  If you regularly suffer from stress, Herbalist and Integrative health expert, Susun Weed (www.susunweed.com), recommends tincture of motherwort; "it’s not sleep inducing nor mind numbing and a dose of 10-20 drops can safely be taken as often as every ten minutes, if needed." And most importantly – without losing the ability to focus and get things done, which is a bonus if the stress is work-related. Skullcap tincture is also a very effective pain-reliever and stress reducer. Try 10-20 drops of fresh plant tincture or 1-2 dropperfuls of dried plant tincture before bed as skullcap can be sleep inducing.

Your Bioelectric Circutry...

What it feels like: You’re suffering inexplicable headaches – from dull aches to severe pain. Without rhyme or reason. But being around lots of computers or extended mobile phone use makes them worse.

Rather than a pill... Consider that your body’s bio-electromagnetic circuitry may be out of balance. "In order for the body to function effectively and preventively it requires full communication on a bio-electromagnetic (BE) level," explains Michael Cohen, founder of RaphaYad Bioenergy Healing Clinic (www.bioenergyhealing.org.uk). "Headaches can often point to blockages in your BE circuitry system and are actually a physical signpost to say 'STOP, take some action, something’s not right!'" Bioenergy Healing is, like Reiki, an energy technique. But what is unique to Bioenergy Healing is that is accesses the body's electromagnetic circuitry to overhaul and service the neurological and muscular connections damaged through use, abuse and misuse of the body, which can often result in inexplicable headaches.  Practitioners clear memory patterns that cause the brain to send signals indicating pain or dysfunction to the body. Michael describes it as ‘pressing the reset button’ in the brain so that the person has a purer, cleaner flow of energy running through them. Cohen also encourages clients to learn his techniques so that they can work on themselves rather than relying on a practitioner to treat them. ‘If you are suffering from bioelectric blockages manifesting as headaches, you may also be hypersensitive to certain synthetic and man-made technologies,’ explains Cohen.

See if any of the following help:

  • Notice if you are experiencing increased symptoms when you are around equipment like microwaves, digital bedroom clocks, broadband connections etc. Consider how close they are located to you, whether you remove them or relocate them further away or whether you really need them.Switch off your broadband when not in use.
  • Switch your mobile phone off when not needed. Do not keep it on your person when not necessary.
  • Turn off all electrical appliances in your home or office when they are not required or infrequently used.
  • And a technique to calm your energy and ease headaches; Place your right hand over your 3rd energy centre (chakra) which is centrally located just above your belly button and your left hand over the pubic bone. This will start to calm your energy. After a couple of minutes, lower the right hand so that it is centrally located just below your belly button. Keep your left hand in place.  If you are left-handed follow the above instructions using the opposite hands. This technique is especially good for overcoming stress, headaches, anxiety or if you need to just calm your system down. NH

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