Most of us experience a headache from time to time. As a matter of fact, according to the American Council for Headache Education (ACHE) 95% of women and 90% of men will experience at least one headache this year. No big deal, right? Well actually, there are a significant number of our friends, neighbors and co-workers who have 2 or more headaches a week. This group of sufferers will lose time at work and school due to their pain. There are many types of headaches, which will be discussed in a follow up article. Migraine is a type of headache that makes normal activities nearly impossible for most sufferers. According to the 2004 Global Burden of Disease Study, migraine on its own was found to account for 1.3% of years lost due to disability (YLD). Now that is a lot of down time whether you are the person with the headache or their boss, co-worker, or spouse.
Most headaches can be treated effectively with physical therapy, lifestyle changes, postural changes, and medicine. If you are one of the unfortunate fellows with the aching head, you probably want to know what you can do to reduce their frequency or prevent them. Actually, there are many things that you can learn to do or avoid to reduce both the frequency and intensity of your headaches.
Knowing what triggers your headache or what clusters of things trigger your symptoms can help you make better choices. For many, that can be the different between a mild, short-lived headache and a whopper of a migraine.
Here is a list of well-recognized Headache Triggers:
1. Stress-some stress is unavoidable, but most stress can be managed or reduced with things like deep breathing, making different choices, creating margins of down time daily, etc
2. Weather-temperature changes, barometric changes or bright sunshine in your eyes can trigger a headache
3. Strong Smells- like paint, flowers, perfume or cleaning products
4. Exercise-for tension or stress headaches, exercise can improve symptoms but for migraine sufferers exercise can trigger your pain. Be aware that a bad headache during or immediately after exercise can be serious as it can also be a sign of a stroke or aneurysm.
5. Poor Posture- slouched or forward head posture can pinch the nerves at the back of the head and decrease the blood flow causing a pain in the neck (pun) and head
6. Hair Accessories- any girl who has ever worn their headband or ponytail too tight knows what I am talking about. Enough said.
7. Fermented Foods like wine, sour cream, aged cheese, miso. See #8 for more specifics.
8. Tyramine Foods- according to healthline.com tyramines are naturally occurring compounds found in some plants, foods, and animals produced by the breakdown of the amino acid call tyrosine. It can also be created when foods are aged or cured to prevent spoilage. Tyramines tend to cause migraine headaches. Those that are sensitive should avoid cured meat, lunch meat, cheese (particularly blue, cheddar, parmesan and swiss), soy sauce, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and, unfortunately, chocolate.
9. Wine- All of my friends will hate me. Don’t shoot the messenger, but wine, particularly red wine, contains sulfites and tyramins. Both things can cause sensitivity in certain people.
10. Aspartame- this is an artificial sweetener present in many diet sodas and low or reduced calorie foods. A few poor folks are allergic to aspartame but as many as 30 percent of women may be sensitive to aspartame, making them have a headache or muscle aching after ingesting the item.
11. Low Blood Sugar- particularly if you have had coffee or caffeine with a sugary food followed by a long period of time without eating.
12. Smoking- both the smoker as well of the victim of their second hand smoke may suffer from headaches triggered by the combination of the strong smell and the constricting of the blood vessels in the brain related to the nicotine.
13. Caffeine- usually from too much. A little can cure, too much can trigger a headache. Caffeine withdrawal is also widely recognized as a headache trigger.
14. Overuse of Pain Medications for your Headache- This is called a rebound headache.
15. Hormonal Changes- this is seen in teenagers, pregnant women, during ovulation or any time there is a swing in the hormones
16. High Blood Pressure- there are other medical conditions that cause headaches but this is one of the most common. Usually it is associated with flushing of the head and neck. See your doctor about this as soon as possible.
Here is a list of options to Reduce your HEADACHES:
• Keep a food diary and HA diary and see if there is a tie in to when you have a headache and what you ate.
• Manage stress
• Proper sleep- 7-9 hours per night
• Regular meals- Do not skip meals (See #11 in the Triggers list)
• Treat the headache early
• Regular exercise
• AVOID YOUR TRIGGERS
As a Physical Therapist, I regularly see headache patients. Most clients have a significant reduction in the frequency and intensity of their symptoms. Some clients will get complete relief, depending on the cause and how willing they are to make changes. Some of the tools I use to treat headaches are exercises to strength the postural muscles and core, flexibility exercises to reduce tightness in the chest, neck, head and shoulders, and muscle relaxation. In many cases, we will work to improve posture, work station set up, and teach you ways to manage your symptoms.
In certain, though less common, cases you should seek immediate medical advice. According to the National Headache Foundation, go to your doctor immediately if:
• You are having your worst headache ever
• You are having your worst migraine attack ever
• Your headache is accompanied by the following symptoms:
• Unresolved loss of vision
• Loss of consciousness
• Uncontrollable vomiting
• The pain of your headache lasts more than 72 hours with less than a solid four-hour, pain-free period while awake
• You experience a headache or a migraine attack that presents unusual symptoms that are abnormal for you and frightening.
Dr. Dawn Muller PT, DPT, MTC, Cert. DN is a physical therapist with 30 years of experience treating headaches and pain. She is the owner of Thrive Physical Therapy. For an appointment call 229-228-9019.