Aw! my aching head!
In the last few weeks, we have developed a series of blog posts dedicated to addressing therapies for the most common types of physical pain, including remedies for sore muscles and for joint pain. This week we begin a multi-part conversation on headache relief that will wrap up the entire series. . .
A review, what is pain?
Pain is the body’s way of letting you know something is wrong. Pain occurs in many different ways and on many levels. Because pain is such a subjective concept, these articles will focus on what I see in my practice.
Generally, my patients experience one of the following four types of pain:
- Back pain
- Sore muscles
- Joint pain
- Tension headaches
- Sinus headaches
- Cluster headaches
This week and next, we will deal with Category Four, headaches — migraines in particular.
The many types of headache pain
Headaches are complex and varied, so much so that a few years ago I attended a special seminar that focused on methods for treating headache pain. Varieties of headaches include Migraines, Tension headaches, Sinus headaches, Cluster headaches, and many more. There are some other types, but these are what I see often in my practice. Headaches can be difficult to diagnose because in order to identify the headache type, a professional must also figure out what the cause is.
For example, a hangover headache is caused by dehydration from all the drinking (and perhaps vomiting) the night before. In addition, alcohol — especially beer — increases the urge to use the restroom, where more fluids are lost. The result the next morning is that blood vessels are narrowed, causing painful issues with blood circulation. So what’s the cure? Prevention. Drink a lot of water before drinking a lot of alcohol. I do NOT condone excessive consumption of alcohol. I only use this as a segue to my next general point...
Dehydration is an important factor to consider when you are trying to treat headaches. Most of us don’t drink enough water. Some of you are sick and tired of me saying this but until something changes I’ll keep saying … "Drink water!" Not iced tea. Not pop. Not coffee. Not lemonade or Mio. Drink plain water. Try drinking a big glass of water (about 10 ounces) the next time you feel a headache coming on. Then continue drinking throughout the day. If the headache goes away, you probably were low on H2O.
Okay, so what is a Migraine?
The topic of various headaches and their treatment is pretty involved, so it will have to be broken down over the next few blog posts. Follow along as much as you can — it’ll be worth it.
Okay, so what is a Migraine?
There isn't a single correct answer because there are different types. Migraines are identified by their causes. Causes of migraines are called triggers... and there are a bunch of triggers.
I can say that most migraines are brought on by an allergy of some kind. My personal experience has been if I eat MSG (monosodium glutamate), I experience a raging migraine. Mine are examples of migraines due to allergic reaction. That said, women are still more likely to suffer from migraine headaches, 3-1 over men. Reports suggest that hormone irregularity is the cause of migraines for peri-menopausal and menopausal women. However, I have treated teenage women for what are known as “menstrual migraines”. So, based on my experience, there are many unanswered questions when it comes to identifying and alleviating these types of headaches. Some over the counter medications help and Imitrex (Sumatriptan) is commonly prescribed for more severe cases.
What does a migraine feel like?
Many migraines begin with a slow ache behind an eye. Then the entire vision gets weird. Then the sharp pain comes and suddenly you think, “who hit me with an axe?!" You feel nausea and you may even lose feeling in one of your arms or hands. You need to get away from the light because it hurts. These symptoms can last for several hours or several days. The first time this happened to me I thought I was having a stroke! Different people experience different variations of these symptoms, e.g., pain without the vision blurring or even the blurred vision without the pain. And, if you’ve never experienced any of these symptoms it doesn’t mean you haven’t had a migraine either... this phenomenon is very complex.
For those of you who suffer from chronic migraines, my heart goes out to you. I have figured out what my “trigger" is and it has made my life easier. Here are some ideas for you to try when you feel a migraine coming on. One sure trick is to catch the migraine early — if you can — and that means paying attention, so that you can identify your own triggers.
- Inhale a fresh onion. Slice an onion in half and put it in a plastic bag. Bring the bag up to your nose, creating a seal around your nose with your hand. Inhale deeply several times through your nose. Onions have a chemical that causes the blood vessels to open up sending more blood into the brain. Sometimes this stops a migraine dead in it’s tracks.
- Brain freeze. This hurts a little, but nothing like a full-blown migraine. You how to do this. Grab a big ol' spoon of ice cream and cram in your mouth. Do this really fast to induce brain freeze. If this doesn’t work for you, next time you'll just have to indulge in some Jamoca Fudge before you have the headache.
- Ice and heat. Place an ice pack on the front part of your head and a hot pack on the back of your neck and alternate the packs every three to five minutes. This causes confusion in the pain receptors and the brain can’t focus on the headache pain. Do this until the migraine starts to dissipate.
- Hydrate. DRINK WATER, please. This really helps because the more water you have on board, the better your blood will circulate. This is because your blood vessels will be less constricted.
Next week, I’ll talk about common “triggers” for migraine headaches.
peace and love.