Five Tips for Headache Relief

In this post and accompanying video, common causes of headaches are reviewed, and five practical tips which offer headache relief are presented and demonstrated.

According to a WHO fact sheet, headache disorders are among the most common disorders of the nervous system. In addition, it has been estimated that almost half of the adult population have had a headache at least once within the last year, with up to 30% of the world’s population suffering from a recurrent headache disorder, such as migraines.

Keeping in mind that as headaches are a symptom of an underlying problem, there are many causes of headaches. Some of these causes are more serious and require immediate care. If you are experiencing the worst headache of your life, have numbness or paralysis of your face or body, or the headache is not relieved with any of your usual treatments, then a visit to the emergency room is warranted.

With that said, most headaches arise as tension or possibly hormonally related. Thus, I would like to offer Five Tips for Headache Relief and in some cases, these tips will help prevent these types of headaches as well.

  • Hydration — According to the Mayo Clinic, dehydration is a cause of what is known as a secondary headache: “a symptom of a disease that can activate the pain-sensitive nerves of the head” [1]. The first step to take when a headache is beginning is to drink a large glass of water, 12-16 ounces. This in itself often relieves a headache within a few minutes.
  • Magnesium — Magnesium is a mineral that is involved in many bodily processes including muscle relaxation and proper nerve signaling. Supplementation with magnesium has been shown to decrease the frequency of migraine headaches and is also used for emergency treatment of severe migraines [2,3]. Proper levels of magnesium may keep the neck muscles from becoming overly contracted which is often a contributor of tension headaches. When supplementing with magnesium, make sure you choose a product that has been chelated. Chelated minerals are more easily absorbed by the body.
  • Thumbs — Between the thumb and the first finger is a pad of tissue called the thenar eminence. Often when a headache is present this area is tender to the touch. By pressing and holding or massaging this area, tension is released and a headache will ease or disappear. Do this to one or ideally both hands at the base of the thumbs. Hold or massage for 3-5 minutes.
  • Back of the Head — Similar to the thumbs, there is a spot on the back of the head, where the skull meets the neck that can be tender with tension headaches. By pressing into these areas, on both sides, with your thumbs or fingers the muscles will be able to relax allowing pain to subside. Hold or massage this area for 3-5 minutes.
  • Toes — At the other end of the body, on the bottom of the great toe is a spot that is often tender with headache occurrence. Squeeze the toes gently, pressing the toenail and the bottom of the toe together. Hold one side or both for 3-5 minutes.

Using any or all of these techniques can give immediate relief and allow you to avoid using medications. Common headache medications often come with side effects especially if used frequently. Regular ibuprofen use has been shown to cause rebound headaches, meaning that once the medication is stopped it will actually produce a headache. Liver damage can occur over time with regular acetominophen use.

References

  1. Armstrong, Lawrence E., et al. (2012). “Mild Dehydration Affects Mood in Healthy Young Women“, The Journal of Nutrition 2012 Feb; 142(2): 382-8.
  2. Shahrami, A., et al. (2015). Comparison of Therapeutic Effects of Magnesium Sulfate vs. Dexamethasone/Metoclopramide on Alleviating Acute Migraine Headache The Journal of Emergency Medicine 2015 Jan; 48(1): 69-76.
  3. Tarighat Esfanjani A., et al (2012). “The Effects of Magnesium, l-Carnitine, and Concurrent Magnesium–l-Carnitine Supplementation in Migraine Prophylaxis” Biological Trace Element Research 2012 Dec; 150(1-3): 42-8.

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