How I managed to cure my cluster headache

Cluster Headache Illustration
Cluster Headache Illustration | Source

A little background...

I have experienced several kinds of headaches in different regions of the head throughout my life. I've had tests done and a brain scan done with everything showing up as normal. My eyesight thankfully has always been perfect even though there is a constant faint redness (no i don't smoke weed). I also noticed the causes of the headaches changed with time and i relied a lot on a daily use of painkillers to get me through some of the years.

When a few of the painkillers stopped working for me i decided to find ways to fix these headaches once and for all. i.e. getting to the source of the problem rather than numbing the pain all the time with painkillers.

One of the types of headache i experienced is the one where it feels like your eye is constantly throbbing or being pushed out and the intensity increases every minute. This kind was a new one that i encountered last year, and i recently found out that its called a cluster headache. I've seen so many posts online with people who think there is no cure to cluster headaches and others who are concerned about taking tablets while pregnant etc, which is the main reason I am writing about it.

The first time it happened to me, i was fasting and i had about 5 hours left to go until I could break my fast. I got off work early and drove back home because i knew my headaches increase gradually to the point of rendering me useless. At first i thought i'd sleep it out, but the pain escalated very quickly and 5 minutes felt like a very long time, so i ended up breaking my fast with some painkillers. Soon after taking the painkillers, i vomited which gave me enough relief to be able to sleep it off.

The pain feels like a normal headache with an added intense kind of pressure on one of your eyes. In my case it was the left eye. You could say the eye feels like its about to pop out any minutes and bright screens (laptop & smart phones) makes things worse. The picture above is a great illustration of how you really feel. If you have similar symptoms, you could try out my methods and see if it works for you.

The Learning Curve

My usual techniques to get rid of headaches did not work until i came across the video below.

"for those who have trouble accessing youtube, install the "browsec" extension in google chrome and enable it to watch the video. don't forget to reload the page once installed."

The coach's exercise tips helped me a little and gave me some form of relief with a hint that the throbbing actually has something to do with the muscles of the neck and not a brain or eye sight issue. Try out the exercises he shows and see if it helps you.

Did the Coach Salem exercise help you?

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Deep Heat Cream
Deep Heat Cream

The Quick Fix

If the exercise helped you in the slightest then we know it has something to do with the muscles in the neck.

Deep Heat has been a loyal muscle pain reliever for me for the past 20 years. I have tried others and they have worked too but for me deep heat really generates that heat in the muscles and stays there for a longer period of time than the other alternatives out there. I would recommend deep heat to anyone having any kind of muscle pain, but you can use any muscle relieving cream available in the market. I would strongly advise to use the cream versions and not the spray versions because the spray has proved not to work as well as the cream for me. There is also a pain oil available which i have tried and although it stinks, it does work but still not as well as deep heat.

Back to my story ... so I applied deep heat cream under the ear region and the back of the neck sometimes over the hair and noticed that without any exercise shown in the video and without any painkillers the pain goes within 20-25 mins of application. If i could not apply deep heat in time and the intensity of the pain reached close to its max then i would have to re-apply deep heat after about 30 mins to an hour of the first application.

So the simple quick fix : to effectively get rid of a cluster/eye throbbing headache, I would recommend applying deep heat cream on the back of your neck. The spray version does not do a great job. Use the cream version.

Use no more than the amount of toothpaste you squeeze on a toothbrush for the whole of the neck. Yes, I know it burns / stings a lot but trust me, it works.The muscle groups you need to concentrate on are shown in the next illustration and i have labelled them 1,2 & 3 so you can't go wrong.

Example : For pain on the left side. Apply the cream on locations 1 & 2. Location 1 is the key here so make sure you get under the ear and follow your skull line to the back of your ear, then spread it down the side and back of your neck.

The top of the Sternocleidomastoid (say that fast 3 times) and the Splenius Capitis are the regions you want to focus on.
The top of the Sternocleidomastoid (say that fast 3 times) and the Splenius Capitis are the regions you want to focus on.

And that is basically it. 20-30 mins and you'll know if this works for you.

The Long term fix

If the quick fix worked for you, then i would recommend you follow up with these long term fixes to get rid of it completely. If it didn't help you much, you can still try to apply these methods if you're looking for a way out.

Memory foam contoured pillow.
Memory foam contoured pillow.

1. Change your pillow

If you absolutely have to use a pillow then use the memory foam pillow. This pillow drastically reduces stress on the muscles in the neck. If you need a pillow and cannot afford or have access to a memory foam pillow or simply don't want to spend that much on a pillow then find the softest pillow you can get. A kind in which your head gets lost in it.

If i ever fall asleep on a mildly harder pillow i know that by midday i will start feeling headache increase and if i don't do anything about it when it starts i will not be able to do much at night. So this is an essential change you need to make.

The stretch he does on the cover of this DVD is the most important stretch you need. Bend your neck completely... perfect this move alone and you will notice a difference.
The stretch he does on the cover of this DVD is the most important stretch you need. Bend your neck completely... perfect this move alone and you will notice a difference.

2. Stretching Exercises

Do some light / moderate stretching exercises. Something like the stretching sequence taught by Tony Horton (you'll love him if you don't already) in his P90x series of workouts. Basically you need to concentrate on your neck & back muscles because that is where this pain originates.

Its not the top most muscle layer which is affected otherwise i would have advised a neck and back body massage. Its one of the deeper muscles which will straighten itself out when you actually use it. I've never tried a deep tissue massage, but you could give it a shot and maybe let everyone know if it helps.

The stretch he does on the cover of the DVD is the most important stretch to know. Bend your neck completely (it will not bend as much in the start but try pushing it back and one day you may feel it open up that little extra bit and that is when you should know you're close to getting rid of it forever ... if you perfect this stretch alone and you should notice a difference.

UPDATE : 17 May 2015

I recently came across some neck strengthening exercises which seemed to have helped even more. Now I can use any kind of pillow and do not have headache issues.

YES, NO MAYBE exercise.

This is usually taught to fix stiff necks and is performed standing up. The procedure I learnt is a little different.

  1. Lay on your back with your shoulders touching the floor.
  2. Raise your head up.
  3. Do 50 yes movements (nodding up and down continuously) as fast as you can.
  4. Do 50 - No movements (swinging head left to right continuously) as fast as you can.
  5. Do 50 - Maybe movements (left ear > left shoulder > right ear >right shoulder) as fast as you can.

I'm quite sure you will not be able to do 50 each the first couple of times. But hang in there. Do your best and forget the rest. I do this 3 times a week and have been doing it for 1.5 months now. There is not even a sign of a cluster headache left.

Don't eat it all at once.
Don't eat it all at once.

3. Eat Muscle Nutrition foods

There are so many foods which are good for your muscles. Your aim here is basically to give your muscles the nourishment it needs. Include some of the following in your diet : Eggs, Almonds, Salmon, Yogurt, Beef, Coffee and lots of Water.

ORS (Oral Re-hydration Salts) are also very useful (and quite cheap) for hydrating your body. ORS is normally used when a person has diarrhea but it's a good way to add an extra punch and give your body a boost. My brother who is a senior chemist in some lab gave me this tip and i can assure you it really does help give you a boost. Hydrating your body is essential; if you don't want to eat the nourishment foods then ORS is a must.

or a hooded scarf
or a hooded scarf

4. Wear a hoodie / scarf in winter

Try to make it a habit to keep that neck covered. The main purpose here is to keep the area warm during winters and whenever you notice a cool breeze (in spring and autumn too). You don't have to wear something like the beautiful model on the right. Wrap any piece of warm clothing around that region.

The people who live in cold climates probably know this, but i'd just like to spell it out for those who have always lived in warmer regions. When we were moving to Islamabad, the doctor advised my dad to wear normal thickness shirts etc but we had to add more layers to protect the body (specifically the chest region). Therefore, using the same principles on your neck, if you have a scarf then wrap round your neck 2-3 times.

If that was me i'd have tears.
If that was me i'd have tears.

5. Smoke Less

I know most of the smokers reading this are rolling their eyes and thinking "it was going so well, why did you have to throw this in".

I am a smoker too, but when giving advice i have to be honest. Smoking is a catalyst for the pain and you must have noticed this yourself if you are a smoker. Just try not to smoke as much when you know the pain is lurking around.


I have been following the above mentioned regime for the past 3-4 months now and the cluster headache is completely gone. I still do have other kinds of lingering headaches like the mild headache which just stays there all day, but those do not interfere with daily activities so i can let it slide.

Some of reasons for other kinds of headaches include sinus issues, irregular bowel movement, not enough sleep and too much sleep. If you have regular headaches then i would advise you keep a close eye on these things and learn to manage them.

I really hope the information in this article enables you to get back in the driving seat of your life. Take care and God bless.

© 2015 Irfan

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