Heads up on headaches - 5 things you can do to help yourself
Most of us will experience a headache at some point in our lives and the good news is that the vast majority are not dangerous and will clear up on their own, with simple over the counter painkillers or management techniques.
Unfortunately for some people headaches and migraines are frequent, be very debilitating and have a significant impact on their lives. There are many different types of headache, and correct diagnosis is key to obtaining the correct treatment.
While there are many different causes of headaches they can broadly be broken down into 3 groups. These are set out in the International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition, a resource for medical practitioners to help them understand and identify the correct diagnosis, prevention and management strategies for headaches.
This is a group of headache types which are not present as a result of any other medical condition and can’t readily be attributed to disease such as infection or a traumatic event such as a head injury. Examples of this type of headache are tension-type headache, migraine and cluster headaches.
This group of headaches are caused by underlying medical conditions. Traumatic incidents, infections, medication side effects and disorders of the sinuses for example can lead to headaches. The number of headache types in this group is extensive and varied and management will depend upon the underlying condition.
Neuropathies are disorders of the nervous system. When looked at in the realm of headaches and face pain they are mostly concerned with damage, entrapment or infection of the cranial nerves. These are the nerves which convey the sensation from the skin of the face and head along with the sensations of smell, sight, hearing, taste and balance which can also be affected in some headaches.
Who should I see for help?
For ongoing headache issues you can visit your primary health practitioner, such as your GP or osteopath. They will be able to work with you and other medical practitioners to get you the right combination of medication and preventative advice and techniques.
There are also a number of support groups, both locally and nationally who can provide advice more specific to your diagnosed headache type.
How can I help myself?
While the list of headache types is long and varied there are some simple pieces of advice which you can follow and may be what you need to manage your symptoms
Sleep is vital to our general health and getting enough rest can help with preventing and alleviating headaches. Being tired, stress or a change in routine can all lead to head pain. A dark, cool quiet bedroom is a good place to start. Have a look at my blog about tips for getting good sleep and how much sleep we need for more advice.
What we eat can impact headache. Some foods such as cheese and chocolate are the more commonly associated with triggering headache. Keeping a food diary can be helpful to find triggers but often it is not as simple as just one food being the trigger unfortunately. Eating a balanced, healthy diet can be effective as it will allow your body to maintain a stable blood sugar level.
Hydration is important. Even mild dehydration can lead to headache. 2 litres per day is generally recommended but this will depend on your activity and climate. Try dropping a slice of lemon or lime in with your water to vary the taste. You can drink small amounts over the course of the day, and fruit will also provide you with some fluid intake - but do be careful – fruit can be high in sugar so moderation is key.
Moderate exercise has been shown to be useful in the prevention of headaches. A regular routine is much better than occasional strenuous exercise and has many benefits. Improved circulation, reduced stress and reduced muscular tension can all be beneficial in the prevention of headache, and will also have a positive impact on sleep – a brilliant double whammy! If you need some tips to get started you can read my blog.
Improvement of joint mobility, muscular tension and stress levels by manual therapy such as osteopathy can help you prevent many types of headaches. Osteopathy works with the body to encourage circulation of the blood and the fluid which bathes every cell in the body, promoting maintenance of nutrition and waste product removal, finding balance and allowing your body to function at its peak level.
As a headache sufferer, Ian understands the impact headaches can have and has an interest in helping as many people as possible who are living with headaches and migraines. During this difficult lockdown period we are very aware that the stress and anxiety may be detrimental to headache sufferers and we are available to help via online telehealth appointments.