How to Deal With Frequent Migraines and Other Headaches
Whether you’re at work, in class, or parenting energetic children, you can’t afford to let a headache ruin your day. When a headache strikes, many people turn to medication to ease the pain. But medication isn’t always a viable or desirable option.
You may be looking for treatments to complement traditional medicine or for alternative ways to treat and prevent headaches. This post outlines useful tips and treatments to help you cope with headaches, such as self-monitoring of symptoms, using relaxation techniques, chiropractic care, and more.
The first step is determining what kind of headaches you suffer from.
Four Types of Headaches
Understanding headaches and knowing the most effective treatments for them can be vital as you try to gain relief from them. Migraines, tension, and cluster headaches can present with a wide spectrum of similar symptoms of varying intensity. Each type requires a slightly different treatment approach. The best way to tell what kind of headache you have is to examine the intensity and combination of symptoms.
- Tension: Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, often caused by tension in the neck. Chronic stress, poor posture, and a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to neck tension. The pain typically is described as a dull ache, often accompanied by a feeling of pressure. Tension headaches usually are relatively short in duration, usually resolving within a few hours.
- Migraine: Migraine headaches are frequently caused by triggers: certain foods, light, sounds, or smells. Hormonal changes and a genetic predisposition can affect the frequency of migraines. Migraines can strike suddenly and typically have moderate to severe levels of sharp pain. They often are accompanied by symptoms like sensitivity to light, visual symptoms, nausea, and pain in the temples.
- Cluster: Cluster headaches are not caused by triggers or tension but by irregularities in the hypothalamus, which is why they often occur at the same time every day. Unlike pain from migraine or tension headaches, cluster headaches typically focus behind or around one eye, with agonizing pain radiating outward. These types of headaches do not often respond to usual headache treatments and should be treated by a neurologist. However, secondary problems that result from cluster headaches — such as tension in the neck and even depression — can often be treated.
- Sinus: Unlike the three types of “primary” headaches above, which are not caused by another physical problem, sinus headaches typically occur in conjunction with sinus infection. They are relatively rare — often what people assume to be sinus headaches are actually migraines. Sinus headaches typically manifest as a deep, continuous pain in the forehead, cheekbones, or bridge of the nose, and can be aggravated by head movements. Sensitivity to light and nausea are not typical symptoms of sinus headaches.
Identifying and Avoiding Migraine Triggers
Since migraines often are caused by triggers, identifying your triggers is the first step toward prevention. Triggers can be different for everyone, but common ones include:
- Smells like perfume and cigarette smoke
- Large amounts of caffeine
- Loud noises
- Not maintaining a good sleep schedule
Some triggers are unavoidable, such as a whiff of secondhand smoke or loud noises in your work environment. Even an activity like a high-intensity workout could set off a migraine.
To help identify your triggers, try keeping a journal of all your activities before a migraine comes on. This can help you narrow down contributing factors, and help you avoid them in the future.
Tips for Coping With Migraines and Other Headaches
Sometimes migraine triggers are unavoidable, and cluster, tension and sinus headaches can strike without warning. So what can you do to help prevent or relieve the pain?
As with any other medical condition, it is important to consider all the factors and treat the whole person rather than just the problem. Frequent headaches can cause emotional issues, as well as secondary medical issues. Here are a few ways to reduce the impact and frequency of your headaches or migraines:
- Pay Attention to Your Emotional and Mental Well-Being. Migraines are very commonly associated with anxiety or depression. There can be a social stigma associated with having frequent migraines. You may be afraid that friends and family won’t understand the pain you are experiencing. Pursuing treatment for stress or anxiety, and using coping techniques such as meditation are just as important as avoiding triggers and treating physical symptoms.
- Pay Attention to Warning Signs. Sometimes migraines appear after signs like irritability, nausea, or mild pain. Some people also experience auras, symptoms that come before a migraine, which can include mental fog, seeing shimmering lights, numbness or tingling in the face or hands, or a heightened sense of smell, taste, or touch.
- Take Breaks to Stretch. If you have tension headaches, take frequent breaks to stand up at your desk and stretch or relax tight muscles in your neck and shoulders to avoid tension buildup.
- Change Your Diet. If caffeine, alcohol, or certain foods are causing more frequent migraines, try taking a break and note whether your symptoms improve. Foods that can trigger migraines include onions, some types of fruit, and aged cheese.
- Ask Your Doctor About Supplements. Magnesium supplements have helped some migraine sufferers dramatically reduce the frequency of their headaches. It is important to ensure supplements don’t interact with your other medications.
- Reduce Stress. Controlling stress in your life is extremely important if you suffer from frequent migraines. Try taking a warm shower or using warm compresses to help ease symptoms. Meditation and yoga are often helpful in reducing stress, as well.
Chiropractic Care for Headache Relief
While these tips are all helpful, you may need additional care to adequately manage your headaches. Consider conservative chiropractic care, which is noninvasive and can effectively complement traditional medical treatment. Many Americans get real relief from headaches with chiropractic care that targets the cause of the headache itself.
A study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics compared spinal manipulation and a commonly prescribed migraine medication, amitriptyline, and found that spinal manipulation was just as effective in reducing the intensity of migraines.
More research in this area is still necessary, but many of our patients at Tuck Chiropractic Clinic have found headache relief through chiropractic care.
For more information on the types of headaches and how chiropractic care can treat them, visit our headache treatment page or make an appointment with one of our experienced chiropractors.
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