A headache is pain anywhere in the head or neck region. Most people will have experienced headaches. However frequent headaches with little relief can become significantly disabling. There are many different types of headaches but can be mainly grouped into primary and secondary headaches. Primary headaches are the most common, e.g. tension headaches and migraines, while secondary headaches are caused by problems elsewhere in the head or neck. The most common causes for tension headaches are related to stress, depression, anxiety, head injury or due to abnormal posture of the head and neck.
Chronic headaches are non-specific and therefore not linked to a disease condition. They are characterised as headaches occurring for 15 days or more in a month for at least three months.
Symptoms of Headache & Migraines
Chronic tension type headaches cause mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head, which is pressing or tightening. When severe in intensity these headaches may be referred to as a chronic migraine. Migraine headaches involve severe disabling pain experienced as a pulsating or throbbing beginning on one side of the head, then later may spread to both sides. It is associated with an ‘aura’, which is a group of warning symptoms that start before the headache. It is associated with nausea, vomiting or both, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can be triggered by certain foods e.g. chocolate, lack of sleep and alcohol.
Treatment of Headache & Migraines
For many people over the counter pain medication will offer successful pain relief. Avoiding trigger foods will bring considerable relief. When headaches become more frequent and potentially disabling, to avoid frequent medication alternative preventative measures may be an option.
Integrative & Complementary Medicine
Complementary therapies that may be helpful but it is important to remember that the extent of benefits is variable depending on the individual’s response. Often simple lifestyle changes to reducing stress, avoiding caffeinated drinks and a good nights sleep can do wonders.
Acupuncture research has demonstrated its effectiveness in relieving tension-type headaches, and when added to routine medical care may be beneficial in reducing the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches. Migraine is thought to be an electrical phenomenon in the brain that affects the blood vessels, biochemical activity causing neurogenic inflammation. Acupuncture treatment can help offer pain relief by easing muscular tension or strain through the release of endorphins and other neurohumoral factors, thus changing the way pain signals are processed and perceived by the brain and spinal cord. It promotes vascular and immune modulating chemicals which reduces inflammation. Serotonin levels are regulated and there is inhibition of the spread of electrical brain waves both of which are associated with the start of a migraine. Blood flow in the brain is also regulated.
Nutrition supplements such as vitamin B2 (riboflavin), coenzyme Q10, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and melatonin may be helpful. people with migraines often have lower levels of magnesium and some studies suggest benefits with low levels of magnesium. However, like all supplements magnesium can interact with medications therefore should not be taken without professional advice.
Aromatherapy & Massage: Many essential oils are useful in relieving headaches. The choice is dependent on whether the headache is due to muscular tension, mental fatigue or other causes. Relevant oils include, lavender, rosemary and peppermint which have sedative, muscular and emotional effects. In both headache and migraines a preventative approach is best. Massage will help to relax any muscular tension and stimulating the acupressure points will take the edge off the pain.
Other Therapies: Herbs such as butterbur and feverfew may help with migraines, while others such as dong quai, ginger, willow bark are suggested for headache or migraine treatments. Chiropractic spinal manipulation and reflexology may also offer relief. Other mind-body medicine such as self-hypnosis, biofeedback, relaxation techniques, meditation, guided imagery and psychotherapy may also help.
- Headaches and complementary health approaches. (2011). National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), NIH.
- Migraine Action.
- Migraine. (2011). British Acupuncture Council.
Revised: Dec 2014