Feeling the Pressure of Headaches? Strategies and Solutions for Relief
Most of us have experienced a headache in our life and know that they can range from being mildly irritating to completely debilitating. Although headaches may seem like an inevitable part of life, most headaches can actually be diagnosed and treated. Moreover, there are specific steps that you can take to prevent headaches from occuring in the first place and to reduce their severity when they occur.
Headaches fall into two categories: primary, where the cause of the headache is unknown, or secondary, where the cause of the headache is known and due to an underlying condition or cause. Primary headaches are further classified into different types, with tension headaches being the most common (approximately 90%) and migraines being the most well-known (approximately 10%).
Tension headaches are usually considered the mildest type of primary headache. These headaches are usually felt on the side of the head above the ears, and are described as a “tight band of pressure” or a consistent, dull ache around the head. Tension headaches may be triggered by stress, anxiety, poor posture, or other emotionally demanding events, and are associated with tight and tender facial, neck, and shoulder muscles.
Migraine headaches, on the other hand, are considered the most severe type of primary headache. Migraines are usually felt on one side of the head and/or behind the eye, and are frequently associated with nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and/or sound, and fatigue. Some individuals also experience symptoms prior to the headache occurring, such as changes in mood, stiffness in their neck, and visual disturbances known as an aura. Migraines can be triggered by diet, sleep, genetics, bright lights, hormones, medications and/or weather changes.
So, you’re feeling the pressure of headaches. Here’s what to do…
Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to manage headaches and decrease both their frequency and severity. The first step is to get evaluated by a healthcare professional to figure out if your headaches are generally primary headaches versus secondary headaches and to identify an appropriate treatment plan.
Next, understanding the steps that you can take to decrease the likelihood of developing a primary headache in the first place:
- Getting a good night’s sleep. There is a strong correlation between sleep deprivation and headaches, specifically migraines and tension headaches. Poor sleep leads to low levels of melatonin in the body, which has been associated with increased headaches. Moreover, a lack of sleep can lead to a decrease in our brain’s capacity to moderate how much pain we feel, therefore decreasing our pain tolerance and making headaches feel more severe when they occur.
- Decrease overall stress. Stress is one of the leading causes for both migraines and tension headaches. Stress can be managed in various ways, such as meditation, decreasing workload, as well as seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor. Getting regular exercise is also a great way to decrease stress. Exercise releases endorphins, which can boost mood and decrease the physical sensations of stress, which then decreases vulnerability to headaches. This can be as simple as getting 30 minutes of physical activity a day (a brisk walk, bike ride, etc.).
- Improve posture and relax muscle tension. Tension headaches are exactly what they sound like – tension in and around the muscles of the head and neck. Performing exercises which target posture, as well as stretches to improve mobility, can drastically decrease headache frequency and duration. Book in with a healthcare professional, such as a chiropractor or physiotherapist, to find out which exercises will be best for you.
- Eliminate dietary triggers. Many individuals have a sensitivity to various foods that trigger migraines, such as chocolate, aged cheeses, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, nuts, MSG, yeast, processed meats, red wine, and citrus fruits. Individuals can work with a dietitian or try an elimination diet to determine if any of these foods may be triggers for migraines. Additionally, skipping meals or inconsistent eating patterns can increase the likelihood of experiencing a migraine.
Finally, if a headache has already developed, there are also several things you can do to decrease the severity of the headache:
- Go for a walk. Try getting some fresh air while keeping your heart rate low. Increased blood flow and decreased stress will help the headache subside. However, rapidly increasing your heart rate or performing strenuous activities can make headaches worse.
- Self-massage and stretch. Using your pointer and index fingers, put pressure on the temples, the back of your neck, and the jaw area. When you find a tender spot, hold pressure for 30-60 seconds until the tenderness subsides. To stretch tight neck muscles, try gently pulling your shoulder down and tilting your head away from that shoulder to stretch out the key ‘headache muscles’. Check out @totalchiro on Instagram for a video of this stretch and other exercises.
- Hydrate. Dehydration can significantly increase severity and duration of a headache. Drinking water (ideally 2-4 liters per /day) can help reduce headache symptoms.
- Avoid bright lights and loud music. Try to stay in a quiet, dark room if a migraine is present. Anything that over-stimulates the nervous system can make headache symptoms worse.
Many headaches can be significantly improved by making small changes in our daily lives and improving our posture, exercise, diet, and stress levels. Booking in with a chiropractor is a great place for getting started and learning about additional steps you can take to reduce your specific vulnerabilities to headaches.
This post was written by Dr. Tandia Termuende (D.C., BsKin) in collaboration with WellIntel Talks to increase access to evidence-based health and wellness information. Dr. Termuende is a Licensed Chiropractor at Lonsdale Wellness and is an expert in treating headaches, jaw, back, and neck pain, post-concussion symptoms, athletic performance, women’s health, and more. To book in with Tandia for your next chiropractic appointment, click here.
WellIntel Talks is a wellness education company that aims to increase access to reliable wellness information through both wellness education talks and their wellness blog. WellIntel Talks is a collective of expert Speakers that provide evidence-based and engaging wellness talks to businesses, clinics, and wellness spaces in the community. Their Speakers provide talks on mental health, motivation, diversity and inclusivity, and more, and their platform makes it easy to find and hire a qualified wellness Speaker for your next lunch & learn, employee wellness training, or team building or community event.
Dr. Tandia Termuende, D.C., BsKin, Licensed Chiropractor
Wellntel Talks Executive Team, M.Sc.’s in Clinical Psychology and Experimental Psychology