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How ToTreat a Headache: Proven Alternative Treatments

Updated on October 9, 2013
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Very few people can claim to have never had a headache. Since the beginning of time people have suffered from headaches. History is filled with written accounts of headaches; some of the documentation that has survived over time accurately describes various types of headaches, especially migraines. Causes and treatment of headaches also have a long documented history. In the 5th Century, the Greeks believed that headaches were caused by demons. Hippocrates, a Greek physician and the father of modern medicine, treated headaches with bloodletting, leaches and trepanation; drilling a hole in the head to let the demons escape. In the 1800's Cocoa-Cola was originally produced as a cure for headaches. Even with their long history; do we really know what headaches are and what we can do about them?

There are four general types of headaches; Migraine, Cluster, Tension and Rebound.

Migraine Headaches

A migraine is a vascular headache. A migraine is a moderate to severe headache that is usually made worse with physical activity. It is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. There may be a aura, a neurological symptom that may cause visual, sensory, auditory or olfactory disturbances. In order for this type of headache to begin two mechanisms have to occur. First, there has to be a trigger. A trigger can be anything; certain foods, chemicals, stress, lack of sleep, or barometric pressure. Triggers are usually specific to each person. What may be a trigger for one person may not be a trigger for someone else. The second mechanism is the threshold of the trigger. A threshold is the preset level of the trigger. Once the threshold is crossed a headache occurs. Thresholds also differ from person to person and are usually genetically determined. If your relatives got headaches, you probably will also get headaches. Most people who do not identify themselves as having headaches, have high thresholds, so they have fewer and milder headaches then those with lower thresholds. Once a threshold is reached nerve cells send messages to blood vessels to become swollen and inflamed. The swelling and inflammation of the blood vessels in your head gives you the headache.

Headache Triggers

Environmental Factors
Food
Lifestyle Factors
Barometric Pressure
Chocolate
Smoking
Bright or Flickering Lights
Caffeine
Alcohol
Strong Orders
MSG
Stress
Loud Noises
Nuts
Anxiety
Air Pollution
Artificial Sweeteners
Depression

Cluster Headaches

A Cluster Headache is also a vascular headache. Cluster headaches have a unique set of symptoms and are considered by many to be the most painful of all headaches. The symptoms include severe pain on one-side of the head, usually around the eye and temple. During a cluster headache, the sufferer may look confused or angry and describe the pain as 'an ice pick in the head". There are often additional symptoms such as watery eyes, nasal congestion, runny nose and droopy eyelids that occur on the same side of the head as the pain. These headaches occur in cycles and can last from 15 to 180 minutes over a span of one to eight days. It is believed that cluster headaches, like migraines are caused by a trigger reaching its threshold.

Tension Headaches

The most common type of headache is the Tension headache. Most often the pain is on both sides of the head. The mild to moderate pain has a tightening quality to it, like a tight band around the head. Other symptoms include tenderness of the muscles of the head, neck, jaw or scalp and difficulty concentrating. The cause of this type of headache is not known. At one time tension headaches were thought to be caused by muscle tension. However, it is now believed that they may be caused by biochemical changes in the brain, that occur following periods of high emotion, anxiety or stress. The biochemical changes in the brain impair the blood flow to the scalp and neck and cause muscles to tighten.

Rebound Headaches

Rebound headaches are caused by the medications that are taken to relive a headache. One of the most common reasons a person develops a headache is over use of headache medications. Frequent use of pain killers, even over the counter types like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen can lead to rebound headaches. When you take pain medication 2 to 3 times a week, your body gets used to it. When you don't take it, your body reacts by doing what it did to get it in the first place, creating a headache and causing a cycle to begin. Rebound headaches are usually easy to identify, they are headaches without any other symptoms. The only way to stop a rebound headache is to stop taking the medications that were used in the first place.

Headache Diary

We now know that triggers lead to certain types of headaches, so controlling your triggers can help you control your headaches. A headache diary can be very useful in discovering what your triggers are. At any point in time there are multiple triggers building up against your threshold, making it hard to determine exactly what trigger set the headache off. An example of this is chocolate, sometimes you can eat chocolate without getting a headache and at other times, one small piece can appear to give you a headache. On the day that the one piece of chocolate appeared to give you the headache, you may have already been exposed to smoke and consumed large amounts of caffeine; therefore it appeared as if the chocolate was the trigger that gave you the headache, when in reality there were multiple triggers working on your threshold. So the more triggers you can identify and control, the better you will be able to control your headaches. You will never be able to control some triggers, like barometric pressure, but it is helpful to identify as many triggers as possible and attempt to control them. A headache diary should include: date, time and duration of your headache; intensity of pain (1 to 10 point scale); weather conditions; foods and drinks consumed; activities of the day; smells/scents; sleep patterns of the day; exposure to smoke or chemicals; stressful situations and treatment. After you have kept this diary over a period of time, patterns will begin to emerge and you can begin to control your triggers. Sharing your diary with your doctor may also be beneficial.

Difficult to Avoid Triggers

Weather Changes
Hormonal Changes
Sensory Stimuli
Barometric Pressure
Menstrual Cycle
Tobacco Smoke
Approaching Storms
Pregnancy
Perfumes
Heat and Humidity
Menopause
Cleaning Products
High Altitude
 
Bright Lights

Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been proven to be effective in the treatment of migraine and tension headaches. Acupuncture originated in China, 5000 years ago. It spread through Asia and Europe and eventually the United States. Today acupuncturist are licensed and certified to practice. The idea behind acupuncture is that our well being is controlled by a life-force energy (Chi). Opposing body forces must be in balance before this life-force energy can flow smoothly. The smooth flowing if this energy ensures physical, emotional and spiritual health. The life-force energy flows from head to toe via meridians or lines, with energy access points at each meridian. The flow of energy through the meridian can be blocked due to stress and muscle tension. The acupuncturist manipulates each access point to restore balance to the flow of the bodies energy and health to the organs system served by a given meridian. It is believed that medical problems, like headaches are caused by altered flow patterns of Chi, this leads to an imbalance and the resulting headache and muscle tension. Western science believes that the stimulation by the needles to the acupuncture points leads to the releases of morphine like substances, called endorphins, by the brain and endorphins stop pain.

Acupressure

Acupressure uses the same principals as acupuncture. Instead of needles, the acupressurists use their hands, finger, elbows, and knees to stimulate the acupuncture points to produce the same results as acupuncture. The acupressurist manipulates these access points to restore balance to the flow of the body's energy (Chi) and health served by the meridians. Acupressurist can successfully treat migraine and tension headaches. Pressure -point self treatment can be easily learned.

A doctor should always be consulted before you begin any treatment for a headache, especially if your symptoms are frequent, severe or disabling. Proper diagnosis and treatment are essential to headache relief. However, once diagnosis and treatment have been established you might find these alternative forms of treatment beneficial.

© 2012 susiempn

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    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Lots of good headache info here. I don't get them often so a lot of this was news to me, but I am a fan of acupuncture-- used it years ago for post lyme joint pain and it really worked.

    • glmclendon profile image

      glmclendon 5 years ago

      Good read. Thanks for the info. I don't them often.I feel blessed about that. I enjoy your work.

      Stay Well

    • susiempn profile image
      Author

      susiempn 5 years ago from Michigan

      Hi robie2, there is so much to be said about acupuncture. People just need to be open to the idea.

    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 5 years ago from East Coast

      Thanks for the informative hub. You have listed some triggers and remedies that really can help.

    • susiempn profile image
      Author

      susiempn 5 years ago from Michigan

      Thank you!

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