By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND and Nicole McMurray, B.Sc, RMT
If you suffer from chronic or even occasional headaches, you know how disruptive they can be to your life. You may have a big day at the office, commitments to host family from out of town or you’re generally being pulled in all directions – and then, a headache. Dr. Shawna Darou, ND and Nicole McMurray have put together a comprehensive list of causes and treatment options for those pesky headaches.
Naturopathic Treatment for Headaches
Headaches and migraines are a frequent complaint that many women just surrender to and live with. Before you jump to repeatedly taking medications for your headaches, I would like to provide some insight into their treatment because often they are completely treatable by assessing and addressing the root cause.
Here are some of the more common causes of headaches:
When a headache is caused by food intolerances or gastrointestinal imbalance, there may also be digestive upset, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, brain fog, sinus congestion, acne, eczema, among other symptoms. Food intolerances can easily be tested with a blood test for IgG or delayed hypersensitivity reactions. In some cases, an additional test for celiac disease (gluten intolerance) may be needed.
Many headache and migraine sufferers have triggers to their headaches such as MSG, aspartame, nitrites (in deli meat), sulfites (in wine, dried fruit and salad bars), and tyramine in chocolate and cheese. Testing out a whole food diet, free of additives for one month will usually determine if this is the cause.
When headaches or migraines come with menstruation, ovulation, puberty or near menopause a hormone imbalance is suspected. There may also be signs of PMS (fluid retention, cravings, irritability,…). Hormonal migraines can also be caused by oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy. This is an area that we can often resolve with optimal hormonal balance.
Blood sugar instability
Low blood sugar can trigger headaches in some people and may also be accompanied by irregular energy patterns through the day, dizziness, irritability, extreme hunger and anxiety. Treatment is to stabilize blood sugar levels by eating small, regular meals through the day and eliminating sugars.
When headaches are found in combination with palpitations, constipation, anxiety, insomnia, muscle cramps and menstrual cramps a magnesium deficiency is suspected. These symptoms are compounded by a poor diet, too much sugar, caffeine or alcohol and high stress. Treatment is to improve nutrition and use appropriate types of magnesium supplements.
Analgesic rebound headaches
A complicating factor for people who get frequent headaches is the phenomomen of rebound headaches. In general, analgesics should not be used for more than 10 days per month. Basically, chronic daily use of medications causes and contributes to chronic daily headaches.
These are just a few of the more commonly seen causes of headaches and migraines.The key is to get to the root of the problem and treat them by correcting the underlying cause. If you suffer from regular headaches please book an appointment to investigate potential causes of your headaches and treat them in a lasting way.
Tension Headache Relief through Massage Therapy
Tension or muscular headaches can be caused by tension in the back, neck, shoulders, and jaw. These symptoms tend to arise from:
- Poor posture (forward head carriage, sleep positioning, sitting or standing all day with a non-ideal ergonomic setup)
- Overactivation of muscles (tension in shoulders and neck, or clenching the jaw with stress)
- Imbalanced muscle activation (working out with nonspecific or unnecessary muscle engagement of neck muscles).
Ways Massage Therapy can help Relieve Headaches:
There are a few different options to look into when treating headache symptoms, depending on what type of symptoms you are experiencing and the intensity of treatment you prefer.
Trigger Point Therapy
Trigger points are areas of soreness that can cause discomfort or “referral pain” in other areas of the body. Applying pressure to these spots may engage the referral pattern or headache, but will also help to relieve the area. Some common muscles that create referral patterns for tension headaches include:
- Shoulder muscles (Upper Trapezius)
- Front of the neck muscles (Sternocleidomastoid)
- Base of the Skull muscles (Suboccipitals)
- Scalp muscles (Occipitofrontalis)
Positional Release Techniques
This type of therapy is desirable to those who find traditional headache trigger point therapy too aggressive, aggravating, or uncomfortable. Although it requires finding and compressing the area of soreness or, that which is causing the referral pattern, the neck or tissue involved is quickly and passively moved by the therapist into a position of ease. This provides an opportunity for the tissue to relax, and allows for the relief of discomfort without having to endure its intensity for several seconds. You can read more about this technique here.
Headache symptoms may be caused by discomfort or tightness present at the attachment of the muscles involved, or possibly due to fascial (connective tissue) restrictions. Aside from general massage, Graston Technique®can get into the area of tension a lot more specifically and efficiently. This helps to decrease amount of continuous deep pressure used in an area (decreasing pain post-massage) and effectively releases muscles without as much of the referral pain. You can read more about this technique here.
Consider a couple of the causes we mentioned above. Arching your neck to look down at your phone or computer screen, clenching your jaw, or getting neck engagement with shoulder exercises. These actions can cause the muscles that perform them to get an unintentional work out – creating the potential for tightening of muscles, trigger points, and in turn, headaches. Be aware of what actions, either specific or daily activities, that seem to aggravate symptoms to help prevent the headaches from occurring.
Stretching can be a quick fix for general neck tension and headache relief. Using a hot cloth, heating pad or hot water bottle on the neck prior to stretches allow for the muscles to be more pliable and more susceptible to loosening.
An easy way to access those headache areas or tension lines is to play around with your regular stretch. Placing one hand behind your back stabilizes the shoulder into a neutral position. Bring your opposite ear to your shoulder, refrain from holding the neck in that position at this point. From here, you can rotate the neck, extend it back, or flex it forward – you are searching for those areas that create a bit of pull or tension more than others.
Once you have found that area, use that hand that is not behind the back to apply extra pull in the direction the neck in placed in. Please keep in mind – you should feel that tension or discomfort decrease within 15-30 seconds of holding. If not, you may be applying too much extra force. Do not continue if you are experiencing increased pain.
More specific stretching can be determined through where the headaches are felt. Strengthening exercises can also be discussed to adjust posture.
There are many possible root causes and treatment options for headaches to consider and we are here to help you navigate your way to better health.
If you are experiencing symptoms and would like to learn more about the cause of your headaches and how you can best manage symptoms, naturopathic medicine and registered massage therapy can help you get there.
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