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Simple Tips For Managing Headaches

I hope you’ve been drinking plenty of water and eating plenty of water-rich foods since last week’s “Wellness Wednesday.” If you missed it, we talked about delicious summer-friendly foods that can help you keep hydrated during the blast-furnace months of a Florida summer.

That got me thinking.

I made a list of the symptoms of dehydration, from feeling thirsty to headaches to cramping to death. (Yeah, it really is that big of a deal.)

Headaches On The Rise?

Since last Wednesday’s article, I’ve been hearing about people suffering more and more headaches. Actually, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve probably just become more aware of people talking about their headaches.

Either way, it’s time to talk about headaches.

You might be experiencing one right now. That’s the sinister thing about headaches: if someone so much as mentions them, you start to feel one. So I’m sorry if I’m making your head hurt right now. Fortunately, I’m going to give you some simple tips for managing headaches.

Chiropractic, Obviously

I think we can skip the obvious one: seeing a chiropractor. Many headaches are caused by subluxation or misalignment of the vertebrae in the neck. The imbalance of tensions on the muscles surrounding the skull can create imbalanced pressure inside the skull, while swollen, knotted muscles can pinch off blood flow, creating extra pressure in the brain and cranium.

So, if you suffer frequent headaches, whether intense or dull, go see a chiropractor for an evaluation and adjustment. I know a good one right here in Naples.

The problem with headaches is that they don’t always strike during business hours, so seeing a chiropractor isn’t always practical. In those moments, it would be easy to run to the medicine cabinet for relief. To be honest, for most headaches a little Tylenol or ibuprofen is all it takes to feel better. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re the type of person who is looking for a more natural way to feel better.

In a minute, I’m going to share a couple of tips for getting some relief.

First, let’s look at the common types of headaches.

Common Headaches: Do You Experience These?

Pain is your body’s way of letting you know something is wrong, like a flashing red light on your dashboard. Different things can cause headaches in different parts of the brain, so knowing which part hurts can give you clues as to what is wrong. The National Headache Foundation has clinical data on over 150 different types of headaches, but identifying them all would be a headache in itself, so I’ll focus on the ones you’re most likely to come across.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches usually appear around your temples, above your ears, along your scalp, or across the back of the head (sometimes all of these at once), and they usually come as a result of stress.

If you’ve been under stress, take a few deep, cleansing breaths for now. Later on, take some time when you are not under that pressure to think about the situation that contributed to that headache, how you felt, and how you might have handled it differently. Stress is usually rooted in relationships. Are there unreasonable expectations in those relationships? Are there opportunities for you to negotiate expectations with others to reduce the stress?

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches have been known to shut people down for days at a time. For some people, they start with visual cues, like flashing lights or “seeing stars.” When the pain comes, it’s like a knife behind the eyes, but usually just on one side of the head. Usually, the pain involves some kind of throbbing or pulsing. Sometimes it can be so severe the patient feels like (or actual begins) vomiting. Most people suffering a migraine become sensitive to light and sound and may choose to lie down in a dark, quiet room. If you experience tinging on one side of your face or down your arm, go to the emergency room. While those are symptoms of a migraine, they are also the early signs of a stroke, so please take it very seriously.

Some patients say migraines run in their family, while others develop them after a trauma, like a head injury or PTSD. Most headache literature says (and my own clinical experience bears this out) that migraines are significantly more common among women than men. Some of that make be explained by the constant ebb and flow in a woman’s hormones throughout her adult life, but other factors, such as sleep deprivation, dehydration, certain chemicals, and skipping meals, can trigger them as well.

Story: Debbie’s Migraines

I remember a patient I’ll call Debbie, who frequently came in reporting migraines. It didn’t take much at all to set her off into an all-day tailspin of pain. We got her on a regular schedule of chiropractic adjustments, we increased in daily water intake, and identified some household cleaners she just wasn’t allowed to use anymore. I also encouraged her to meet with a counselor to help her deal with some lifestyle issues that were causing her stress, like working through the night, skipping meals, and an addiction to adrenaline. All of those issues were playing a role. Her lifestyle also contributed to a diet of convenience food to such a degree that her body was developing a sensitivity to it.

Her other doctor prescribed a laundry list of pain management pills, but at the end of the day, it took a commitment on her part to make some simple lifestyle changes to finally see real improvements.

Detox Headaches

Commonly known as “caffeine headaches” because of their association with withdrawal from caffeine, detox headaches can accompany the symptoms of withdrawal from any chemical. People who quit caffeine “cold-turkey” (or sugar, heroin, alcohol, bread/pasta, painkillers, etc.) often report that they want to die on the third day of separation because their withdrawal headache is so severe. Once they get through that, they feel surprisingly good, almost super-human.

This is part of the reason that my 28-day detox plan is 28 days and not just “cold turkey.” Your body secretes small amounts of chemicals to help it embrace the toxins you’re taking in. Once your body develops a tolerance for a certain chemical (e.g., “normalizes” it), it has a hard time operating without it. When you discontinue your use of the chemical, your body begins crying out for the pleasure associated with the chemical you’ve normalized, even if that chemical is poisonous to your system. I’ve seen it in patients going through drug rehab and in toddlers who get addicted to a specific snack.

I remember one four-year-old boy whose parents noticed that his behavior changed dramatically when he would have Wheat Thins as a snack. When they took the Wheat Thins away, he had a withdrawal headache similar to a hangover and he would cry for hours. His brain had formed an addiction to the gluten, even though the same gluten was poisoning his gut and overstimulating his amygdala. That’s a topic for another rabbit trail — when we become addicted to foods that poison us.

Sinus or Allergy Headaches

This is a tricky one because most of what we call sinus headaches are actually migraines. We make the mistake because they often accompany seasonal allergies and colds. Sinus headaches include prolonged pressure around your eyes and nose, accompanied by a runny nose or other cold symptoms, and may involve a sinus infection.

Hypertension Headaches

If you have high blood pressure and you experience a headache across both sides of your head along with shortness of breath, chest pain, blurry vision, numbness, or a nosebleed, seek medical attention immediately. Your blood pressure is dangerously high and you are at risk a heart attack or stroke. This is one of those red flashing lights on your dashboard that you must obey NOW.

Exertion Headaches

Some people develop painful headaches after working out, sex, or other types of physical exertion. This is probably due to dilation of the blood vessels and extra pumping from the heart. Usually, these headaches go away after an hour or so. If they don’t, over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen usually does the trick. Better yet, get a drink of water. If you can grab a quick nap, that might be all you need.

Cluster Headaches

Someone reading right now is wondering if I’m going to mention cluster headaches because that’s what they have. Cluster headaches often come in waves; just when one is subsiding, the next one grows in another part of your head. I don’t think of this as a separate type of headache, but as a combo-platter of the other types.

Simple Tips for Headache Management

My hope is that you never experience headaches, but most of us do–some of us regularly. If you have a headache that lasts more than 48 hours, see your doctor. But for most of the headaches that we normally encounter, I recommend the following:

Move Right

  • Do some light stretching of your neck, shoulders, and torso. This will help to loosen any overtightened muscle groups in your neck and upper back.
  • Check your shoulders. Are they hunched? Rotate them around a few times and push them down and back. That should loosen up over-tightened muscles around your neck and shoulders.
  • I do not encourage you to crack your neck. While it might temporarily relieve pressure in your neck, if your spine is not already properly aligned, you might make a bad situation worse. And if your spine is aligned, it’s easy to throw it out.
  • Apply light pressure to your temples, and around your head. I recommend you use your fingertips in a gentle circular motion. You don’t necessarily want to get into deep tissue, but to loosen up tight muscles and constricted blood vessels may relieve pain.
  • It might be time to think about working with a trainer to tone that heart muscle and lower your blood pressure. A sedentary lifestyle is a breeding ground for headaches.
  • Ladies, if you deal with hormone headaches, consider taking a yoga course to learn some moves to help relieve tension on the lower back and hips. Therapeutic massage can also be a powerful way to relax and manage headaches.

Eat Right

  • Increase your water intake. Dehydration is one of the top causes of headaches. This is a big one.
  • Increase your intake of Vitamin C and B-complex Vitamins (ask me about a Vitamin C flush sometime). Both are water-soluble, so you can’t overdose on them, and they are powerful healing agents.
  • Increase your magnesium intake. Most of us are magnesium deficient and magnesium is connected to over 300 cellular functions in the human body. Chia seeds are high in magnesium.
  • Increase your intake of orange, yellow, and green vegetables (summer squash, sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, and spinach) and dried berries (cherries and cranberries are awesome).
  • Limit your intake of caffeine, alcohol, dairy, wheat, and processed foods. These are the foods most often linked to sensitivities and allergies and can cause swelling in your brain.
  • Avoid foods that may contain the additives MSG and aspartame because they have a tendency to aggravate the nervous system. That pretty much rules out most restaurant food.
  • Some doctors also recommend you cut out onions, tomatoes, and fruits. This is one of those areas where you need to know your own body. Your body chemistry might handle them better than someone else’s.
  • I would encourage you to keep a diary of what you eat each day and how you feel afterward. Some foods will affect you within an hour, while some make take a whole day before you feel the effects. Look for patterns, like “every morning after I eat pizza I feel hungover.”

Think Right

  • Look for stress triggers in your relationships, work, and thought life. Some things that stress us out just require us to think about them a different way. You might need to forgive someone (or yourself), change jobs, or get some counseling. Headaches can be caused by our fear of things that we shouldn’t let frighten us.

Live Right

  • Look for household cleaners and other chemicals that trigger headaches, and remove them. I recently did a series of articles on detoxing your home. That might be a good inventory to start with.
  • Think about limiting your exposure to blue light sources, like TVs, computer monitors, and smartphones. They are very hard on your eyes and staring at them for extended periods can strain the muscles around your eye sockets.
  • Compresses on your forehead, scalp, neck, or shoulders can help relieve headaches quickly. I recommend you try cold compresses first. If that doesn’t do the trick, try a hot compress.
  • Lavender and peppermint essential oils are very popular for soothing headaches. Apply them gently to the temples or neck, or just diffuse them in your room.

I hope this was helpful for you. If it was, it might be helpful for someone you know. Please take a few seconds to share it on your favorite social media channel. You never know who needs the information we share here every week. We’ve added over 300 new readers to our Facebook community since I started writing three years ago. That’s 300 more people who get weekly tips to help them Move Right, Eat Right, Think Right, and Live Right. Thank you for helping us get the word out!

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas

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