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What is your head(ache) telling you?

We can all agree that no one likes pain, especially pain that has been around for a while. It can be exhausting. Take headaches, for example. Most of us have had a headache at some point and for some of us they can occur frequently or last for days, even making it hard to function in severe cases. There are a few different types of common headaches: tension, migraine, and cluster headaches.

Tension headaches are the most common and occur when muscles in the head and neck become very tight. They can feel as though you have a tight band around your head or that your neck movement is restricted. Typically they are mild in their intensity and go away within a few days although sometimes they can last up to a week or so. Studies show that these can be caused by stress, head injury, depression or anxiety.

Migraine headaches are intense, pounding headaches that usually begin in the forehead, side of the head, or around the eyes. Migraines can last for hours or days even and they usually severely limit your ability to perform your activities of daily living. Migraines are typically preceded by an aura (flashing lights behind eyes) and may make you sensitive to light, sounds and smell once the headache sets in. Some people even experience nausea, vomiting, difficulty speaking, numbness or tingling. Migraines can be hereditary in nature and therefore may run in families.

Cluster headaches are one of the most painful headaches though (thank goodness) a flare-up doesn’t usually last as long as other types of headaches, with intense bouts of pain in or around one eye that can come and go for weeks to months. The word “cluster” doesn’t mean a certain designated area but the grouping of headaches at a time. According to studies, cluster headaches, unlike tension headaches and migraines, generally are not associated with triggers such as foods, hormonal changes or stress.

To be proactive in trying to keep your headache from becoming debilitating there are a couple of techniques you can do at home. Gentle neck stretching helps to relax the tight muscles. Try to stretch your head to the side and also with your head downward gently for up to a minute while focusing on your breathing. Another is to use your pointer and middle fingers together to feel for a tender spot then push with light-to-medium pressure and gently turn or rock your head (you may feel a little dizzy or cross-eyed but don’t worry that is normal). Focus on something across the room or close your eyes for 1-2 minutes then ice the area afterward. While these are great techniques it is possible that you overdo it and make yourself sore (which also is normal) so just be aware of how your body is feeling.

If these techniques don’t help relieve your headaches then it might be time to schedule a therapeutic massage. Massage increases the levels of serotonin (the stabilizer hormone) in your body to help alleviate the pain by relaxing the tight muscles contributing to your headache. Regular massages can also help with chronic headaches by making the time in between episodes last longer.

Fun fact: Coca-Cola was invented by a pharmacist to help with headaches. Before it became the delightful (but unhealthy) sugary drink we know and love today it used to be wine-infused with coca leaf. The wine was legal until 1886 before the creation of the beverage we drink today and the coca leaf was removed in 1903.


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