Frequent headaches can really reduce your quality of life but pain-killers are not the answer.

Pain of any sort is not any fun, but headache pain can stop you thinking clearly. Even a reliably mild headache makes it more difficult to do your work properly and just getting through your daily routine starting to become an effort.

But a large headache can stop you dead in your tracks and render you unable to function normally. And if the pain is accompanied by typical migraine symptoms of nausea and vomiting then probably all you will be able to manage to do is to go home and collapse into bed.

What makes it harder is that you often do not get much sympathy or understanding from those around you, unless they are also badly affected by headaches. Because headaches are extremely common they may be seen as “normal” and not a “proper illness.”

Even our language tends to trivialize headache pain as in the expression “a real headache” for some annoying or difficult problem.

And a headache may seen as an excuse to avoid responsibility or something you do not feel like doing, as in the well-worn cliché “Not tonight dear, I have a headache” for avoiding sex in a relationship.

If you suffer lots of headaches, and particularly if they are severe, it is easy to feel helpless not knowing when a headache will strike again or how to stop it from returning. Headaches can appear in the day or the dead of night.

One time, a headache might hit during a stressful crunch to meet deadlines at work, another may occur in the middle of an uneventful day, and yet another during a pleasurable activity.

The cause of your headaches can look like a complete mystery.

All of this makes you an easy target for shrewd marketing campaigns by the pharmaceutical industry with their TV commercials promoting “a quick fix” for your headache pain.

It is tempting just to reach for a pain-killer to numb the pain. While this is understandable and OK every now and then, it is most certainly not a good idea on a long-term basis for the following reasons:

1. You are only masking the symptoms , not treating the underlying factors that are provoking your headache. Only by understanding and correcting these factors can you can ever hope to be free of headache pain.

2. You are actually likely to make your headaches much worse. Instead of occurring sometimes several times a month, they now occur much more frequently, often daily, and the pain is more severe and longer-lasting. This is known as a rebound headache or medication overuse headache.

3. All medications have side effects. Serious side effects of long-term use of headache painkillers include damage to the gastrointestinal tract, liver and kidneys.

4. By relying on a pill, you perpetuate your feeling of helplessness. It seems like heads are controlling your life and there is nothing you can do about it. If you unravel the factors that are provoking your headaches, you will restore your feeling of being in control of your life, and this may go some of the way towards actually alleviating your headaches.

It is encouraging to know that there are genuine alternatives to painkillers. Trigger point therapy, diaphragmatic breathing and reducing your stress levels are just a few examples.

The only way to avoid the serious side effects of long-term painkiller use, developing a rebound headache or the feeling of helplessness is to treat the cause of your pain and not just the symptoms.