8 ways to reduce headaches and migraines
Do you dread the stabbing pain that attacks your head every time you feel stressed? Or drink a glass of red wine? Or find yourself in an argument with a friend, relative or work colleague?
Around 40% of people suffer from tension-type headaches, and 10% of us from migraines, according to the American Journal of Medicine. And a massive 96% of those affected rely on pharmaceutical solutions to cure them – yet they still suffer the problem all their lives. Headaches also affect women to a greater degree than men.
Most of us have had a headache from time to time. And while many of us consider them an unpleasant fact of life, in most cases a painkiller or two solves the problem.
But what if you regularly have to lie down in a dark room, sometimes for hours on end? What if the pain in your head is so intense you can hardly endure it, and nothing the doctors give you seems to alleviate the sickness or the flashing lights that accompany the sharp stabbing that seems to gouge a pathway through your very brain?
What if your job is in jeopardy because of these seemingly endless attacks that crop up out of the blue, necessitating unscheduled days off work? It sounds like something from a horror movie. For regular migraine sufferers, it often feels like it.
What makes a migraine different?
Migraine headaches are much more severe than a normal headache. They often come with nausea or feeling faint, combined with a sensitivity to light and sound. Sometimes your heart will race, sometimes you can be physically sick. Sufferers shut themselves away in a silent darkened room, keeping as still and unmoving as possible and pray for an attack to pass. It may last a few hours, or linger for days.
Migraines come out of the blue, sometimes after weeks, or even years, of attack free days. In some cases, they are accompanied by a visual disturbance known as ‘aura’.
Why do we get them?
Stress is an acknowledged trigger for both headaches and migraines, though everyone’s stresses are different and the amount of stress it takes to trigger different levels of head pain varies too. Fluctuating hormones can trigger an attack and often puberty and menopause are times when women in particular suffer.
So what can you do to help yourself? Pharmaceutical medicine nowadays offers a range of pills that shut down an attack as soon as the migraine rears its ugly head. But they don’t work for everyone and often come with less than pleasant side effects. And what if they simply don’t work for you at all?
Natural medicine offers a range of effective remedies for headaches and migraines, all of them non-invasive and side-effect free.
Write down what you eat each day, and keep a food diary for as long as it takes to identify any patterns that link to your migraines. If there are, then cut that food out of your diet entirely and observe any change.
Tap in to tapping
Sometimes migraines are emotionally triggered. Are you dreading standing up in front of hundreds of people at that conference speech? Or confronting a colleague on a difficult ‘Elephant in the Room’ issue? Do you struggle with unresolved family stuff? Issues flaring their ugly heads can trigger an immediate attack for some people.
Usually, once a migraine starts, it’s difficult to stop it in its tracks. Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT – also known as tapping – is a therapy that can. It is sometimes referred to as ‘psychological acupressure’, and involves tapping gently on a series of acupuncture points in a set sequence, whilst focusing on the pain in your head and the thoughts and feelings that the migraine brings up for you. It’s simple to learn and takes a very short time to bring your symptoms under control and manage the pain. I recently worked with a patient who reduced her pain level from a 10 out of 10 to 2 out of 10 in a period of minutes. Shortly afterwards her migraine disappeared entirely.
Acupressure is a healing technique similar to acupuncture, but without the needles. It involves stimulating specific pressure points along the meridians (or energy lines) that, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, run through your body, linked to the health of different organs and systems.
Large Intestine 4 (the Hegu point) has been used for thousands of years to relieve migraines and headaches and these small black clips are designed to stimulate that point. Simply clip one onto the area between your thumb and index finger on each hand and it will apply an amount of pressure your own finger simply couldn’t match. Keep them there till the pain reduces and disappears.
Considerable research has been done into the efficacy of homeopathic remedies, showing that different remedies work for different styles of migraine.
If your migraine gets worse in the afternoons, your hands and feet go cold, your head throbs and you are affected by noise, light and movement then you may be prescribed the remedy, Belladonna.
If your pain is pulsing and mainly on the left-hand side of your head consider the homeopathic remedy, Lachesis. This also works for women who make a connection between their migraines and their menstrual periods and hormonal shifts.
If the pain is mainly on the right-hand side of your head, stretching across the back of your skull to your forehead, experiment with Silicea. This also works if your migraine trigger could be related to mental stress.
Touch on touchpoints
These are a pair of small, black, vibrating gadgets that use ‘bi-lateral alternating stimulation technology’ (BLAST) to restore calm in your brain and boost rational thinking. Research shows they reduce stress levels by up to 70% in a matter of minutes. In ‘normal’ speak what they do is buzz and vibrate – at a different rate and timing in each hand – over-riding the brain’s habitual patterns and in the process releasing any stress build-up and removing the trigger for your migraine.
Originally grown in the wild throughout the Balkans, the daisy-like plant Feverfew has been found to be effective at preventing migraines if taken daily as a supplement. There have been five important research studies to date, several concluding that taking feverfew in leaf form in a capsule reduces the quantity of monthly migraines suffered. Powdered whole leaf dosage is 80-100 mg daily.
Ginger powder taken at the onset of an attack has been scientifically proven to reduce severity of a migraine by 90% within 2 hours.
Bag yourself some bog-rhubarb (yes, you heard correct)
In tests, the herb Butterbur (sometimes called bog-rhubarb due to the resemblance between the two plants) was found to be effective at reducing both frequency, length and intensity of migraine attacks. The dosage that was most effective was 75mg twice a day over a period of three months.
The trigger and the cause of regular head pain is different for each of us and logically, therefore, what is effective for one person may not be for another. There is rarely one single ‘magic bullet’ – but keep experimenting and combining and you will increase the likelihood of finding a combination that works for you.
Sara Davenport is a health advocate and founder of national breast cancer charity, Breast Cancer Haven, and best-selling author of seven health books. Sign up for her newsletter on Reboot Health