Cards on the table, headache and migraine are difficult to treat – apparently there are 150 different types ranging from tension type headache (the most commonly diagnosed headache) to full on migraine with an aura, vomiting and wanting to simply scoop out your brain in order to make it all stop. One of the big problems is that people who are susceptible to headaches are usually hypersensitive to many different types of headache and migraine which mean that the potential headache triggers multiply.
The good news is that there is much more advice out there than “drink more water”. The not such great news, for those of us who want an instant fix anyway, is that some homework and research may be needed – with a condition as potentially complex as headaches a quick fix would most likely not be very effective over the long term.
Tip 1: Keep a diary
If you suffer from headaches you might want to work out when and why – I’m not talking about the medical and physiological ins and outs of how a headache develops, what I mean is why is it that you always get a headache e.g. on a Tuesday? There are many Apps available that may be able to help you with this – migraine buddy has received some very good reviews.
Over time a diary will be able to help you spot patterns – if you realise that you are often getting a migraine on Tuesdays you can start to figure out what may be causing that to happen by looking more closely at your mental state (stress levels) activity and diet specific to Tuesday.
Tip 2: Exercise
Did you know? Although some peoples experience is that exercise triggers a migraine attack, increasing data from the research suggests that moderate regular exercise can be an effective way to reduce the frequency of attacks.
(Lockett DM and Campbell J F. The effects of aerobic exercise on migraine. Headache 1992; 32(1): 50-4.)
However many people do complain that exercise will trigger a headache and very often there can be very simple solutions
- Make sure that you are well hydrated prior and during exercise.
- Make sure you have eaten before exercise so that blood sugars don’t drop dramatically.
- Don’t dive into a very physically stressful workout regime without bothering to get fit or warm up properly beforehand.
- Try not to get too hot during exercise.
Jogging, swimming, dancing, brisk walking/hiking and cycling all make good exercise when introduced gently and especially when enjoyed with company.
Tip 3: Look at your diet
There is a well established link between migraine and diet and while it’s a really bad idea to suddenly decide that meat is the root of all evil and become vegan overnight without considering all the health consequences of that choice, it can be a great idea to try to correlate your diet to your headaches. Maybe Monday night is your home cinema night and you love to eat a whole bag of Skittles, could that be a trigger for headaches on Tuesday? There are a few usual suspects when it comes to food and headaches and everybody seems to have their own ideas about which ones are their triggers. The best piece of advice I have heard about finding dietary triggers is to keep a diary (tip #1). Then if you do decide that it could be the Skittles why not try not eating them for a month or so and keeping a diary? Some are easier to exclude from the diet than others.
Here are the usual suspects:
- Red wine
- Cheese (the more mature the worse the trigger)
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Very cold foods and drinks (it’s the cold that’s the problem, brain freeze is a type of headache)
Tip 4: De-stress
Tension type headache is the most commonly diagnosed headache and it is caused by stress so what could be simpler than removing that cause? Ha! Okay it’s not that simple but if Tuesday is the day that you have to deliver your report to the velociraptor boss then using a meditation App on the bus on the way to work could be a great way to take some control and make a small change.
Again your phone may be able to help you with this with a relaxation, self hypnosis app such as Relax melodies.
Tip 5: Supplements
There has been some research into a few dietary supplements such as Co enzyme Q10, riboflavin and feverfew and many have been found to be very helpful in reducing the frequency and severity of headache attacks. Please do read the information before embarking on an expensive supplementation regime as some can interact with other medications.
Tip 6: Mind your posture
Cervicogenic headaches are headaches that are generated by the muscles and joints in the neck and shoulders and can be caused by poor posture (shoulder rounding and forward head carriage) as well as stress and also post injury such as whiplash.
Sleep hygiene comes under this category too. For those who repeatedly say that they feel like they are waking up with a “hangover type headache” without the obvious causes.
These are the sorts of headaches that manual therapy such as chiropractic are very effective at treating.
Tip 7: Don’t panic!
Headache and migraine can be severe and debilitating chronic pain conditions and it is always worth seeking medical advice if you are concerned. There are medications that can help that only your doctor can advise you upon.
Tip 8: Learn more
This is not an exhaustive list of causes or treatments, as there are reported to be 150 types of headache it would be difficult to cover everything. However here are some useful links to websites such as the Migraine Trust, Migraine.com and healthline.com