It's December, which means we are knee deep into the holiday season. There can be a lot of stress associated with this time of year — finding the perfect gifts for the best deal, fitting in all your holiday parties, and of course, the longest lines of the year at all stores and airports — that can cause headaches. Today we will briefly discuss the different types of headaches and then give you some tips on how you can help create a headache free holiday*.
There are four major types of headaches-cluster, tension, sinus, and migraine. Tension headaches are the most common headaches and are caused by-wait for it-TENSION! Tension headaches are usually associated with dull, yet constant pressure around the head and down the back of the skull to the neck. It is believed that these headaches happen because of a contraction between the muscles of the neck and scapula, including in response to stress. Cluster headaches are often associated with severe, sudden pain, usually on one side of the face and often behind the eye. It affects more men than woman, often reappear in "cycles," and is often accompanied by restlessness or agitation. The cause is unknown, but cluster headaches are also the most uncommon among these types. Sinus headaches are the fun headaches we experience during the high-allergy seasons or during a cold and are caused by a build up of puss or an infection in the sinus cavity. Typically sinus headaches can be felt in front of the face or behind the eyes. Last but not least, migraines-the most debilitating type of headache. Physicians diagnose migraines using certain criteria. Some characteristics of a migraine headache include moderate to severe throbbing, nausea or vomiting as a result of the headache, and possible light and/or sound sensitivity.
So what can we do to treat these headaches? Of course we know that sinus headaches are most commonly cured by antibiotics or over the counter allergy medicines. Tension, Cluster, and Migraines can all be temporarily be relieved by over the counter medicines or for someone with constant, intense migraines, they may have had a stronger prescription filled by their primary care doctor.
But what if I told you there were some healthier, more natural, and less temporary ways to be rid of headaches! First and foremost, get a massage! Your tension headaches are most likely caused by a buildup of stress or tight muscles, creating a pull on the base of the skull and creating trigger points which is in turn referring pain to our head. Although deep tissue and trigger point therapy are great modalities to use to relieve headaches, I believe Craniosacral can be even better for some. Whiplash, concussions, TBIs, or even those who suffer from migraines can find relief in the more subtle and energetic release of each suture (immovable joints) of the skull.
While rare, it is important to also note that headaches can also be a sign of something more serious like a tumor or an aneurysm. If you are experiencing consistent, severe headaches and all four types have been ruled out, I encourage you to contact your primary care physician, as massage would not be effective nor advised.
Other remedies worth trying include meditation or other relaxation techniques for quick stress relief, having a normal exercise routine and remembering to stretch — especially if you sit at a computer all day! Peppermint oil is also a great alternative to medicine by dabbing a few diluted drops on your temples, back of neck, or forehead. Just be careful not get the peppermint too close to your eyes as it WILL make them water due to its cooling effect. Ice, topical ointments, and Epsom salt baths are also popular remedies for those who may suffer from headaches.
While there are numerous other remedies that are great for headaches besides medicine (except when absolutely needed), the important thing to be aware of is the type of headache you are experiencing and which symptoms are accompanying the ache. So this holiday season, when the stress is high and your shoulders are elevated up to your chin and you start to feel that tension headache coming on once all your distant family's arrived, don't hang your head in your hands. Instead, remember that massage can help and let your head (and neck and shoulders and back..) rest in our hands.
For some additional information, ask for an informational sheet about headaches at your next appointment!
*may not work on that one family member who just has a natural ability to trigger headaches.