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  • Northwoods Health Centre

Consider natural health care for headache treatment

Physical or psychological stress affect people differently, some get colds, some digestive upsets, and a great number are prone to headaches.

Headaches can be a serious health problem. Some people suffer from headaches that are severe or frequent enough to be incapacitating. Certainly there are times when a headache signals a serious condition. In the great majority of cases, however the pain of a headache is best seen as a message that your stress level has risen too high. The headache serves as a warning that you need a change, perhaps to rest, deal with an emotional conflict, change your diet, or correct a problem in your personal environment at home or work.

Headaches are broadly classified according to the immediate cause of painful stimulation of nerve endings. The types of headaches include muscle-contraction headaches, vascular headaches, and headaches caused by inflammation.

Most people have had a tension type headache. Most people assume that the term “tension” refers to emotional stress, and in fact many times this type of headache is brought on by stress on the job, being stuck in a traffic jam, or other such situations. But the pain of a muscle contraction or tension type headache arises from tightening muscles of the upper back, neck, and scalp, which may result from any type of stress, whether physical (eg. poor posture) or emotional (to much pressure or unresolved issues). Extremes of heat or cold, hunger, loss of sleep, a long exhausting drive, are examples of physical stresses that can lead to this type of headache, when the muscles contract and cause tension.

The body responds to stress by increasing muscle tone as it prepares for a fight or flight response. Sometimes, physical action isn’t socially appropriate in many stressful situations, so the muscle tension builds up with no way of releasing it. Once it reaches a certain threshold you experience that tension as a headache. The pain arises partly because the muscle is simply sore from being overworked, and partly because the tension constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the tiring muscles.

Treatment of Muscle contraction headaches:

1. Avoid poor posture and unpleasant environments.

2. Take the time to notice when your body is building up tension. You could rub the back of the neck and shoulders and mentally release the tension.

3. Have regular massages to remind the body what it feels like to feel relaxed. Prolonged muscle tension can be imprinted into our bodies and trick our bodies into thinking this is the normal state to be in.

4. Exercise, Tai Chi, yoga, or listening to guided relaxation tapes.

5. Eat and drink regularly.

6. Chiropractic treatment may be needed

The person may feel as though a band or hood were bound tightly around his head. There may be dimness of vision or other visual disturbances, before the headaches set in. The person may also be affected by light, noise, motion, jarring which makes the headache worse. The person may feel dull, tired, heavy, apathetic, and irritable and wants to be left alone.

Migraine Headaches

These headaches have pain resulting from a complex series of specific changes in the blood vessels of the head and brain. During a migraine, the blood vessels first become overly constricted, and then widen abnormally. During the initial phase of blood vessel narrowing decreased blood flow to the brain leads to malfunction in the area of greatest constriction. So, before any pain is felt, the typical migraine begins with some sort of warning symptom, called an aura.

The most common aura is disturbance of vision, which may take the form of bright or colored zigzag lines, areas of cloudy vision, flashing lights. Some people may have slurred speech, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, extreme sensitivity to bright light.

Normal brain function is restored by the return of blood flow. But stretching of the vessel walls, along with inflammation caused by chemical changes in the blood, stimulates pain sensitive nerve endings in the vessel walls. The pain is intense and throbbing and at first may be localized on one side of the head.

A migraine headache is most often triggered by psychological stress, but, oddly, this typical attack begins when the stress is relieved for example at weekends.

Treatment of Vascular Headaches (migraines):

1. Dealing effectively with stress, perhaps using stress management techniques like counseling, meditation, relaxation, massage.

2. Vitamin B is also very helpful with helping the body deal with excess stress of many kinds.

The face is usually bright red and flushed, and the pupils dilated, pulse full and pounding. The headaches cause an extreme sensitivity, to the least bit of light, noise, touch, strong or unusual smell, motion, or jarring brings on a new wave of throbbing and pain. The pain often begins suddenly, and it may go away suddenly as well, typically it is focused on the forehead, but it may be spread all over the head. This headache is usually alleviated somewhat when pressure is applied to the head, and when the person is sitting up.

Sinus Headaches

Many of these are serious conditions that may require medical intervention depending upon the nature and cause of them. Acute sinus headache on the other hand may be effectively relieved using natural measures.

Nasal sprays may offer temporary relief from the symptoms of a cold, but they do so by blocking the body’s own defenses by slowing down mucus production that is meant to serve as a natural cleanser to protect them from further infection.

Treatment of Acute sinus headaches:

1. Sinus bathing. This is done by inhaling saline or slightly warmed salty water through one nostril while the other is blocked, and then repeating the exercise on the other side. This keeps the sinuses clear.

2. Inhaling steam with perhaps some Tea Tree oil or Eucalyptus essential oil added to the boiling water.

The pain is a general bursting, splitting headache, as if everything would be pressed out, or as the head was being hit by a hammer from within. The pain is made worse by motion, and better by rest. The mucous membranes may be dry accompanied by a stuffed up feeling.

The person may have dry parched lips, and mouth with excessive thirst. The pain is worsened by slight touch, and relieved by firm pressure. Pain is worse in the morning, especially after first moving in bed or just after getting out of bed.

For chronic sinus headaches seeking professional consultation is often necessary.

Article by Anita Francoeur is a registered natural health practioner (homeopath) with 14 years experience. She studied at the Queensland Institute of Natural Science, and has a Bachelor of Science Degree majoring in health from the University of Tasmania, Australia. Anita has been providing natural health care services in Port Alberni since February 2003.

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