Cervicogenic Headaches – A Pain in the Neck (Part 2) – Treatment Options

OK, so in part 1 we looked at causes and effects of the cervicogenic headaches, now let us turn our attention to treatment options that can be utilized to help decrease their severity and frequency as well as postural and lifestyle changes to eliminate the undering cause. Treatment options and expectations can be difficult to establish as the cervicogenic headache can be something of a “chicken and the egg” process. The better we can tell what caused what the more accurate the recommendation and prognosis. For the purpose of this article we will divide recommendations into acute or recent onset that is forwarded from an injury or event and chronic or long term conditions without a history of injury. Certainly there can be a combination of both acute injury and chronic resultant conditions but for simplicity we will look at the former:

An acute injury or traumatic event is most commonly associated with a sports injury or auto accident. Remember, just because you may not have been the driver in an accident, the body goes through the same injury. As an example, studies indicate that a typical low to medium impact “whiplash” injury has the same impact as taking off in a fighter jet … about 5 to 7G's of force. This force is absorbed by 22 cervical ligaments and tendons in the neck that attach key muscles allowed for movement and overall function. Common treatment options for an acute cervical injury with resultant cervicogenic headache include muscle relaxants, pain killers, manipulation / chiropractic, physical therapy and massage. Ideally, studies indicate that the best results may in fact be accompanied with all of the above used in combination. Pain killers should be considered as a last resort or at best a temporary option due to the potential side effects and addictive qualities. The muscle relaxants do just that, they serve to relax the muscles that are in spasm. These muscle spasms are the body's natural defense mechanism, however left in spasm for too long they can cause on- going issues including but not limited to the cervicogenic headaches. So, from a relaxation and functional standpoint the anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxer and pain killer (preferably over the counter) provides the body a chance to rest which is important when injured. However, it does little to actually treat the underlying cause of the injuries, that being the sprain and or strain of the cervical spine muscles and ligaments as well as potentially the minor misalignment of the 7 cervical vertebrae or bones in the neck. The manipulation process addresses specifically the top three vertebrae to ensure proper nerve flow, think of it in terms of having a water hose with a kink in it and then releasing the hose to its normal position. Additionally, the muscles need to be addressed through physical therapy and massage in order to maintain the proper alignment. Like a tug of war, if the bones are manipulated to take pressure off of the nerve, yet the muscles remain in spasm then the muscles will simply pull the bone back where it was at the time of the accident or injury. Again a combination of the above treatment options appears to have the best results for acute injuries.

The treatment management of chronic or long term cervicogenic headaches can certainly utilize some or all of the above options as well, however generally speaking the results may be slower as the body has already adapted perhaps with cervical muscle scar tissue and / or cervical spine osteoarthritis dependent on the events if any and the duration that led up to the headaches. The body will heal itself the best way it can to function and protect itself in the short term, however if the joint integrity and / or muscle tone is compromised for a prolonged period of time then this healing process may not have been biomechanically correct if you will, resulting in chronic cervicogenic headaches. The most common cause for cervicogenic headaches appears to be resulting form postural imbalances. The head forward or flexed positions that we face through the day in front of computers, etc. coupled with poor overall post sitting, standing and sleeping have lead to headache complaints in record numbers. Some studies indicate that over 2% of the population, translated to 18 million people have suffered cervicogenic headaches resulting in clinical outpatient visits every year! In addition to the above referred treatment options it is very important to be aware of the potential reduction result of poor posture of the neck and the relation to cervicogenic headaches. Options for treatment of the chronic cervicogenic headache should include adjusting any book, computer etc. to be at a position that does not require the neck to be in a flexed position for a prolonged period of time. Headsets for phone work are much better than having a phone to the ear (including cell phones). Additionally, daily stretching and range of motion exercises for the neck are very important and lastly, our sleep habits. It is important to sleep on your back or side (do not tuck chin) with the usage of a cervical pillow. The cervical pillow is designed to maintain the integrity of the neck in its proper alignment while we sleep, allowing the supporting and overstressed muscles a much needed chance to rest.

As mentioned earlier cervicogenic headaches are complex to evaluate and treat. Try these suggestions under the direction of your doctor as individual circumstances and results vary. You may just discover that those headaches you have learned to live with may not be around much anymore. Maintain good cervical posture and timely and appropriate health care for any neck injury … The quality of your life may depend on it. Best Wishes.

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Cervicogenic Headaches – A Pain in the Neck (Part 1) – Cause and Effect

Headaches can raise for a variety of different reasons including air and food allergens, chemical reactions, sinus and vision problems and of course just being over stressed. However, the most common form of a headache is termed a cervicogenic headache. These are headheads that originate due to an imbalance in the neck. These imbalances can be initiated by a number of things from car accidents to sports injuries. The most common origin of cervicogenic headaches is that of postural imbalances in the neck.

The neck has over 20 muscles and ligaments that attach to and around the skull. With the skull weighing approximately 13 pounds, it is like these muscles must hold the weight of a movable bowling ball in correct position. Any injury weakens or tears the ligaments resulting in overcompensation of the surrounding muscles, this often times results in knots in the muscles or trigger points. As referred above, a more common form of neck imbalance with associated trigger points is created by postural deficiencies.

How we stand, sit, read, work and sometimes most importantly sleep dictates the muscles ability to function. Any prolonged head forward or flexed position creates a stress on the muscles from the shoulders to the base of the skull. Work requires us to have our head sideways with one ear to the phone, schools have us in uncomfortable positions from grade school through college with significant reading and writing requirements which necessitate a head forward or flexed position. Lastly, with the spread of computers from the work place to home to wireless to portable, we now can spend all our waking moments with our head in the wrong position resulting in a predictable surge in headache complaints.

So you can see that for most of us our day to day activities place our neck muscles and the cervical spine in work mode all day. Therefore, the only rest we may give our ankle neck and shoulders is while we sleep. Unfortunately, for most of us our sleeping posture is no better than our posture while we are awake and unexpectedly our neck gets little rest during the night as well. As stated earlier, the head forward or flexed is the most common for the neck imbalance and resulting cervicogenic headache. Translate that to how we sleep and it becomes important to sleep on our back with the proper pillow for support or on our side.

Sleeping on the stomach is the worst as it creates stress on the muscles and places the cervical spine in the reverse position of its normal state. For all of the side sleepers out there this is fine if done correctly, the challenge is we tend to tuck our chin down into a fetal position either due to habit or temperature and this creates the same posture we face during the day. Additionally, for both the side and back sleepers, many of us use pillows that are too big creating either a lateral flexion or forward flexion position.

It should be noted that cervicogenic headaches can be linked to other symptoms as well due to the abundance of the brain stem containing the 12 cranial nerves. These nerves allow for a variety of functions including digestion, vision, taste, hearing and more. Therefore, if you experience a combination of these symptoms such as headaches with blurred vision or seeing spots or headaches with nausea it is quite possible that the cause is that of cervicogenic headaches secondary to cervical spine and muscle imbalances. Of course always check with your doctor to rule out more serious conditions if symptoms persist.

This completes a brief overview of cervicogenic headache causes and effects (part 1). Please refer to Cervicogenic Headache Treatment Options (part 2) coming soon to follow … the quality of your life may depend on it. Best Wishes.

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Are You Getting Enough Sleep to Avoid Headaches?

There are a few things that the human body needs in order to make sure that it is as healthy as possible. We need to make sure that we are eating the proper foods, keeping our body nourished regularly. Exercise is also something that is beneficial for the human body and can help to balance it from the inside out. Something else that the body needs is plenty of rest and an adequate amount of sleep on a nightly basis. If you are not getting the sleep that you need, you may actually be triggering headaches which is surely something that we could do without.

The unfortunate reality is, many of us find it difficult to find the time on a nightly basis to get the sleep that we really need. We may feel that we can easily get by with six hours of sleep every night but the average human needs anywhere from eight to nine hours of sleep every single night. That is why it is important for you to make sure that you take the steps that are necessary to make the time for sleep, especially considering the consequences of a headache that many of us feel.

The most important part about getting enough sleep is preparing yourself properly in order to make the most out of the sleep that you actually get. Many of us lie in bed, tossing and turning for perp an hour or more before we fall sleep and even then, we may not ever reach the deep sleep that we really need. That is why it is important for you to take a little bit of time before you hit the sack and actually get yourself ready for the best sleep of your life. How is this done?

One of the best things that you can do is to avoid anything that is going to keep you up within the hour directly leading up to the time that you plan on going to sleep. This would include such things as drinking caffeinated drinks, watching television shows that excite the mind or going over anything that is too deep, such as bills or other frustrations. It also helps if you take melatonin about 30 minutes before you go to sleep at night, as this will help you get the deep sleep that you need in order to wake refreshed in the morning. If you are able to successfully sleep better at night, you are often able to avoid many of the headaches that you have during the day.

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Eat the Right Foods and Get Rid of Headaches

One thing that all of us need to do regularly is eat. Some of us simply eat to live, and we do not really care what it is that we eat, provided we get nutrition that we need. Others of us really pay attention to absolutely everything that goes in our mouth and we may be worried, sometimes as a result of watching our weight. Believe it or not, the things that you eat may actually affect you in more ways than what you had realized. For example, many of us have heads whenever we eat certain items and we may also be able to get rid of our heads by eating others.

Almost all of us have at least a few food allergies that we are regularly dealing with, even if we do not realize it. A perfect way for you to be able to test this theory is to pay attention to how you feel after you eat out at a restaurant. More than likely, either your nose will be running or you will feel a need to clear your throat after you get done eating. This is a very common allergy and it can easily be taken away by putting a little bit of salt on your tongue. These food allergies may also be behind some of the headaches that you¡¯re having, especially if you're having chronic heads.

It may also be possible for you to remove some of the headaches that you have, not only by getting rid of the foods that you are allergic to but by adding healthy things into your diet that will balance the inside of your body. One of the best things that you can eat regularly are raw fruits and vegetables, but very few of us get enough of these into our diet to make a real difference. If you are dealing with headaches, eating these types of foods can not only help your body to cleanse on the inside, they are also anti-inflammatory in most cases and can help to ease headaches.

Begin your quest to stop your headaches through the food that you eat by writing down absolutely everything that you eat on a daily basis and how you feel on that day as well. You will easily be able to tell the connection between the two and to weed out the bad and increase the good. There are 40 great head articles to look for.

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Headache Pain: Natural Ways To Get Rid Of A Headache – Tip Number Three – Simple Relaxation

We experience headaches as head aches, but that does not mean that the rest of the body is not involved. Headaches, from hangovers to cluster migraines, affect the whole physical system – and that's why “body work” helps.

Breathing techniques are used for pain-reduction during childbirth and trips to the dentist. Yet many of us still dismiss the idea that breath affects how we experience and manage pain.

Physical pain and fear provoke the flight, fight or freeze response; all create muscle tension. There's “feedback” between the cause of this tension and its effects.

What this means is that if you relax your muscles, you will reduce the anxiety the pain causes and the pain. Deep relaxation and anxiety can not co-exist – they're mutually exclusive. Deepening and slowing your breathing changes everything.

Pain tends to make us curl up physically around the discomfort as if to protect the affected area – but this is the worst thing we can do, because it aggravates muscle tension. The foetal position has its role in recovery but, mid-headache, one must relax. This is especially important for cluster-migraine sufferers.

Body-workers' head suggestions vary. For migraine, some advocated postures that keep the head above or on the same level as the heart; some, a combined approach that alternates flexing, curling and releasing your spine and shoulders. It's best to experiment, to see which approach suits you best.

For this article, I've included low-heart postures only. Some tips:

  • For all of the following, lie on a mat or blanket on the floor:
  • Use a rubber mat if you have one to reduce joint strain.
  • Never force the movement at any point, and do not continue any movement that causes joint or muscle pain.
  • Never lie where you'll get chilled.
  • If unaccustomed to lying flat without a pillow, use a thin one – lengthwise – under your head, neck and shoulders.
  • Breathe in through your nose. You may breathe out through your mouth if it helps you relax your jaw.

1) Warm up.

Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. Breathe in fully. Hold for a count of three. Breathe out, turning ONLY the head – slowly – so that you look over your right shoulder while keeping the shoulders still. Hold the position while you empty your lungs, then let your head return to the center. Breathe in, and repeat on the left side.

Coordinate the breathing with the movement and repeat several times. Shake the shoulders gently to loosen them.

2) Postures for total relaxation.

i) Lie on your back, palms down, with your feet flat against the wall, and your legs at a 45 degree angle from the floor. Lie close enough to the wall so that your knees are very slightly bent, not hyper-extended.

Breath in and use the wall to push your body into the floor using all your strength. Push down with the arms, too.

Hold for a count of ten. Breath out and completely relax. Repeat five or more times. Then, rest in this position as long as you like, and continue to breathe deeply.

ii) Lie on your back in a star-shape, arms and legs extended. Bring your hands down so they rest, palms up, 6-10 inches (16-20 cm) from your thighs. Your feet should be 10 inches (25 cm) or more apart. Close the eyes and, keeping the shoulders relaxed, breathe in deeply into your stomach as if you're trying to fill up your feet with air.

Breath out slowly and fully, telling your body to relax, letting go of all tension in your shoulders and pelvis. arms, hands, fingers, legs and feet. Repeat, and try to imagine that the floor is doing all the work of holding you up – all you need to do is to breathe in, allow the floor to hold you, breathe out and let go all tension.

Continue for 15-20 minutes.

These simple postures can bring a world of relief. Next time: body-work sequences to loosen the spell.

© 2011 Alexandra Brunel, all rights reserved.

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Headaches: Can They Really Be Prevented?

At some point in their life, everyone will experience a headache. For some, a headache is a rare and trivial matter, for others, a chronic nightmare. Headache symptoms range from the mild pain and throbbing of a tension headache to the excruciating agony, sensitivity to light, and nauseaa of a migraine.

Why Me?

There are many possible causes for the typical headache, the most common often being trigger points / knots in neck, shoulder and / or jaw muscles, many times due to:

– Stress
– Tension
– Postural issues
– Temporomandibular joint disorders

Tightness in certain neck muscles may impinge on small arms that bring blood to your head, causing pain and affecting mental function through a lack of oxygen to your brain.

Other reasons may be related to:

– Allergies
– Sickness
– Lack of sleep
– Poor nutrition
– Dehydration
– Withdrawal from caffeine or other substances
– Weather

In all of these cases, your body is trying to let you know there is a problem! The majority of people will try to cover up the symptoms of a headache by taking medication, but this does not treat the real issue – the root cause of the pain. Although over-the-counter (OTC) medicine may be practical for temporary relief of the occasional headache, overuse of pain relievers can also increase the number and amount of headaches (1) and eventually lead to liver damage. Masking the pain with drugs does not help with chronic conditions and the safety of these medications is constantly coming under scrutiny, with new guidelines and warnings being issued (2). So what is a person to do ???

There Must be a Better Way …

A more beneficial choice to treat the pain of a headache is to identify what is causing it and correct the root problem. Depending on the issue, this may involve the help of a massage therapist, chiropractor, doctor, or other professionals. Many times the cause of a headache is as simple as tension and knots in the upper body. The normal stress of life, occupational repetitive motion, carrying a large purse, athletic endeavors, heavy school backpacks, and bad posture are all common sources of gradually developing myofascial * constrictions. In our tech-driven age, many spend their time hocked over computers, laptops, smartphones, mp3 players, digital book readers, and portable game systems, resulting in rounded shoulders, forward head posture, and other problems which cause muscle imbalances and produce pain . Sitting too much may lead to posterior pelvic tilt, kyphosis of the thoracic vertebrae, and increased shoulder / neck problems. Postural issues can chronically increase tension on certain muscles while weakening others, distorting proper muscle function and leading to constrictions in the fascia *. (* Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds & supports all aspects of the body.)

The most commonly affected muscles that may refer pain and cause headaches include:

– Upper trapezius (shoulders / neck)
– Sternocleidomastoid (neck)
– Scalenes (neck)
– Suboccipitals (neck)
– Masseter (jaw)

A good first step in treating reoccurring headaches would be to see a knowledgable massage therapist. They can give you a clinical assessment, form a plan for treating postural deviations and misalignments, starting working on the muscular issues you may have, suggest some exercises and stretches that you can do at home, or refer you to a physical or occupational therapist for more in-depth treatment.

And the Answer Is …

Yes! It is possible to avert a lot of those pesky heads! Some common sense comes into play with headache prevention, although extremely, even those who are diligent to take care of themselves may still sporadically suffer an occasional minor headache. Here are some basic guidelines for overall wellness and headache prevention:

– Reduce stress in your life, or do not let unavoidable stress “get” to you
– Eat properly for your body
– Stay hydrated with pure, filtered water, free of chlorine, fluoride, or other contaminants
– Get plenty of restful sleep
– Exercise frequently
– Address any allergies you may have, optimally through natural means
– Remain flexible or increase flexibility through Active Isolated Stretching
– Attend to any postural issues which cause muscle tension & knots
– Relieve muscular and emotional tension through massage

As the saying goes – “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Being proactive in preventing headaches will not only help with avoiding headaches, but will increase your overall health and well-being.


1. “Consumer Reports Urges Chronic Headache Sufferers to Examine Their Use of Pain Relief”, 2008 http://www.massagemag.com/News/massage-news.php?id=3986&catid=133&title=Consumer%20Reports%20Urges%20Chronic % 20Headache% 20Sufferers% 20to% 20Examine% 20Their% 20Use% 20of% 20Pain% 20Relief% 20Drugs
2. FDA Drug Safety Communication: Prescription Acetaminophen Products to be Limited to 325 mg Per Dosage Unit; Boxed Warning Will Highlight Potential for Severe Liver Failure “, 2011 http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm239821.htm

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Tension Headache Relief – Finding Permanent Cures And Treatments Naturally

No one wants to be having to buy expensive medication each time a bad tension headache appears out of the blue (as they often do). Not every painkilling pill works for headaches and we can not always find the right one when we need it. So what are the long term or permanent solutions for providing sufferers with tension headache relief? How can you cure your headache problems for good? The most effective methods are the following.

Improving circulation in the head and neck

The pain you feel from tension headaches and from various other types of headaches is often due to poor circulation in the neck and shoulders. Poor blood circulation caused by incorrect posture is very frequently a cause of recurring bad headaches. Tension and stress in your life can further contribute to the tightening up of the muscles in your neck and result in a terrible headache that can last for hours.

Finding a solution for tension and stress

An alternative method for reducing the stress in your mind and thus in your body is hypnosis. There's no need to seek out a hypnotherapist as self-hypnosis solutions can now be found for many different problems, one of which is stress. Downloading an MP3 file and playing it back to yourself using your MP3 player is all you need to do to start the process. Hypnosis to live stress free has helped many people who suffer from tension head pains to live a calmer, more relaxed life.

Muscular tension

Head pains are also a result of muscular tightness, which you may or may not be aware of if it's coming to you. Tight muscles constrict blood flow to your head, causing pain and discomfort. The muscular tension in your shoulders, head and neck can be relieved by using a massage machine, such as a deep-tissue, kneading massager. Automatic massaging machines have received excellent reviews from migraine sufferers due to their ability to automatically knead the tension away from your upper back and your neck. Migraine sufferers testify that this automatic massage machine can completely cure their migraines permanently.

Improving blood circulation

When you have a headache, you may feel tightness around your temps and training on your blood vessels. Even when your posture is apparently optimal, your back is straight and you have not been looking at a screen all day, headaches can tend to pop up unexpectedly. Improving your blood circulation is just one of the ways to get tension headache relief using natural methods.

Low fat and carbs

If your diet has not been great for a while, it's very important that you fix it right away. Reduce your intake of white carbs such as bread and pasta. Avoid any junk food and especially avoid soda drinks. Go easy on caffeine and drink more water. Eating more fresh fruits and replacing carbs with vegetables can help to improve your blood circulation and reduce blood pressure. Furthermore, a healthy diet can help you to manage the challenges of everyday life free of stress and free of headaches.

Take vitamins

You may be suffering from headaches because your body and brain are deficient in essential minerals such as magnesium, potassium and vitamin B. Such deficiencies can even prevent you from reaching deep sleep which in turn, causes you to feel more tired and stressed. Taking homeopathic herbal headache remedies has been beneficial for many headache sufferers who wish to avoid taking painkillers each time a headache comes along.

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Light Sensitivity – One of the Many Effects of a Headache

Headaches can do more than cause you pain. Some can completely incapacitate you. No matter the cause, there are things you can do to help stop the pain … and things to avoid.


Light : The darker the room, the better for your pain. Many times, your eyes are at least part of the problem. Just closing your eyes usually is not enough. Even with your eyes closed, some light can still see in.

Strong Smells : It may be individual, but certain scents, particularly of the culinary variety, can make head pain worse. For me, bacon, hamburger and even garlic are too strong. Even a baby's diaper deposit can turn it from a headache to headache and vomiting.

Exercise : Some headaches are caused by restrictions in blood vessels. Exercise can make that worse. That's one reason one of the first recommendations for a headache sufferer is to lie down.

Sound : We have quite a surround sound system, built over many years. The bass is so strong it can and has knocked dishes off of shelves. It even caused my favorite platter to be broken … just from the system. Can you imagine what that would do with a headache involved?

Home Remedies

Pain Relievers : Over the counter pain relievers may help some headaches. Which you choose depends on what conditions you have and what medications you are already taking. Talk to your pharmacist to make sure you're taking something safe for you. If the OTC pain reliever does not work, see your doctor. Severe pain, especially if it has a sudden sunset should also be seen immediately.

Cool Cloth : I have found a cool, damp cloth to be very helpful in most chairs. You may also want to put one around the back of your neck. Cold cloths may be too much and make the headache worse, so just keep it luke warm.

Lavender : A small amount of lavender added to the water you dip the cloth in can very soothe. This is good for tension headaches. Lavender is used both the aromatherapists and herbalists to help relax muscles, which can mean headache relief.

No matter what causes it, headaches are among the hardest maladies to deal with. Hopefully the above mentioned tips will help the next time you have one.

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Coming Off the Pill? Restore Hormone Balance and Deal With Headaches and Other Symptoms

Hormones and headaches are intimately related. The Pill artificially stabilizes your hormone levels to prevent conception. The downside is that your own hormone production eases off while the Pill pumps own own recipe into your system.

Coming OFF the pill requires you to rebalance. This can take time because the Pill's recipe gets stored in the body, and you must “wake up” your own hormone production, too. Symptoms like headaches are evidence that there's lots of work to do.

Modern life demands that women soldier on, regardless of the natural fluctuations in their bodies that hormon changes bring. This is absurd – we require different things at different times in our cycle: different amounts of rest, different foods, different exercise – different self-care. Ignoring these is a recipe for stress. Headache is our body's message to us that we're not paying enough attention.

Listening to your body more closely is essential. When coming off the pill, start by being a little kinder to yourself. Do not demand 100% “performance” at all times. If you need to rest, rest. If you feel sluggish – breathe, exercise, do yoga, sleep – whatever works best for you. Your body is not a machine – it's a complex, living system.

Do not diet straight after coming off the pill. Do boost fresh and raw foods as much as you can; drink plenty of water; and decrease your intake of alcohol, refined sugars and caffeine … or avoid them. Vitamins help: B complex, C, D, and E.

An Eastern Approach?

Chinese medicine can be useful. Unlike Western medicine, which treats symptoms, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) targets the causes of problems and deals with the body as a whole system. That's smart when the goal is re-awakening your own hormone production.

Theoretically, Chinese medicine practitioners work with the 'energetic' system – a system of meridians along which our life-force, called “chi” or “qi,” travels – or seek to affect the body's operations the system via herbal remedies. “Chi “is not just an idea: practiceers treat it like a substance that can be channeled, like electricity.

Feeling angry about the needles? Think again. Unlike the needles we associate with injections, these are hair-thin probes, expertly applied. Over many years of treatments, I only saw them a handy of times. And although sessions are not entirely without discomfort (practiceers target areas where the chi is not flowing well) they're generally relaxing.

Acupuncturists are experts in anatomy. If you want to get pregnant, do tell him / her when s / he's taking your medical history: it will influence your treatment. They also use massage and a number of techniques unfamiliar to Westerners. My advice is to allow your practitioner free rein at first: experiment. Raise your questions and reservations frankly. A good practitioner will listen and make adjustments.

Acupuncture puts you in touch with your whole body, helping you re-connect with parts of yourself that you've forgotten. Yet even if treatments did not do ANYTHING else, an hour of uninterrupted “me” time with hands-on care in an era of machines and industrial medicine is worth having.

Does all this sound like hogwash? Maybe – but my experience of acupuncture treatment and its benefits convinced me, in my thirties, to re-think all I knew about health. The result has been far better physical and emotional health than I've ever imagined, and a better-balanced, happier life.

© 2011 Alexandra Brunel, all rights reserved.

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Hope for Migraine Sufferers

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Having unsuccessfully tried multiple medical or alternative options for pain relief, many migraine sufferers have all but lost hope that their quality of life will ever improve. However, once you can discover the inner resources that allow you to access hope again, you can start on the path that will enable you

A) to regain control of your life, and

B) to limit your migraine-related suffering.

Observers of the human condition notice that people have different degrees of hopefulness. A curious and wise physician, Dr. Jerome Groopman, has observed advanced cancer patients over the course of his long career, and can respond to these two questions:

  1. Why are some patients able to find hope, but others can not?
  2. Can hope help change the course of an illness?

Although Groopman's work is based on people in extreme circumstances, his findings are applicable to those of us who suffer from migraines. Often it is hard to cling to hope in the face of unpredictable but regular migraine symptoms. Neverheless, I strongly believe that you can find hope again.

In his ground-breaking book, “The Anatomy of Hope”, Dr. Groopman supplies a 3 part definition of True Hope:

  • It is an emotion which emerges when you both understand and feel that there can be a better future.
  • True hope goes beyond optimism, because hope without knowing the full truth may not be sustainable when setbacks occur. True hope is realistic optimism.
  • While true hope acknowledges the significant possibility of failure and the difficulties ahead, it gives us both the courage to confront our circumstances and the resilience to rise above setbacks.

Groopman's book unfolds as a series of vignettes about his patients. He learned from his patients and who they were as people. He divides hope into two elements – belief and expectation.

In order to have hope, you must first believe that you have control over what will happen. If you are convinced you are a victim, it is hard to believe in a controllable future; but a person who feels they can still make a difference has hope. As a migraine sufferer, once you know about other migraineurs (myself included) who live successful lives and you have the support of a migraine coach, you are on your way to regaining control.

Hope even allows a person to demonstrate unreasonable behavior in the face of seemingly impossible odds – as Groopman describes, even the remote possibility of finding a cure for their condition will keep a patient fighting to survive. Similarly, there are many tales of rescuers finding a child alive who was buried by an earthquake, after long days spent searching. Human beings have a very strong will to survive – and to improve their lot in life. Do you want to continue to be subject to the whim of your migraine condition for the reminder of your life, or seize an opportunity to ease your suffering?

There is much scientific evidence that the expectation of improvement in health, whether through medication, an operation or some other method, can itself bring on that improvement. The relief comes from brain chemicals such as endorphins, enkephalins and dopamine. That is why placebos work (many scientific experiments have proved this!). Groopman describes how the initiation of hope releases these chemicals and starts to break the cycle of pain.

I urge you not to wait until near the end of your life before finding out whether you are a really hopeful person! Let's find the switch that will give you true hope again, and work together from there to reduce your suffering from migraine pain.

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Headaches, Migraine and Student Life

Life's full of stresses and exams top the lot. Do you find yourself with pounding in your temples, a steel cap three times too small for you or that ice-pick-through-the-eye-feeling?

Late nights, lost weekends, irregular meals (and alcohol and fast food !!) are all central to student life. They contribute a physical component to the emotional stress of performing on call (which the whole world looks to be asking you to do.)

If headaches strikes, rest, re-hydration and a slow-release blood-sugar boost are what you need. Migraine or other severe headache may make those seem impossible. They're not – but many aspects of life do get a little bent out of shape around exam time.

1) Get something light into your stomach like bread or rice (not fried rice from the Chinese takeaway, though boiled or steamed is fine.) Make sure you keep taking plenty of water. Something cold like fruit, a smoothie or some sorbet / sherbet might be good to have on hand.

2) Rest if you possibly can. Taking a bath in a darkened room for twenty minutes works wonders.

3) If you're happy to, take a couple of dispersible aspirin, Tylenol or paracetemol … but do not take these, or ibuprofen, on an empty stomach. Alcohol depletes your vitamin C levels, too. You may want to avoid orange juice if you've been partying / studying all night but fizzy vitamin C can be comforting “the morning after” if your stomach can take it. Some preparations like Berocca and Alka-Seltzer contain both a mild painkiller and a vitamin boost, often with caffeine. But if you take caffeine, you will not be able to rest, so beware … and do read the label.

4) If you'd rather avoid painkillers, try some yoga. Loosen the spine with gentle head and neck rolls, then follow with the cat, down-facing dog, and the child poses. Finish in the pose of total relaxation.

5) BREATHE. Most of us have little idea about how much our breathing affects everything else we do and feel. Many meditation traditions teach breathing techniques to help you achieve emotional stability (even enlightenment, even!) So if you're feeling anxious or vulnerable, breathing deeply and slowly helps, even without any training. Do breathe out as well as in so you do not hyperventilate.

Headache is a sign that you're not maintaining your body quite as you need to. It's feedback, that's all, a sign you need to take note.

If your headaches are chronic – you're getting them at other times besides exams or they're becoming a feature of your life – you'll need a bit more help to sort out why and what you can do about it. Repeating or returning heads can indicate other health issues or refer to the way we've learned (or have not learned!) To look after ourselves.

Re-education can put most of that behind you. Depending on what you value and how you want to live your life, there's lots of help to be found on the Internet and elsewhere. Spending a little time Now to find out how best to treat your headaches is an investment in your future.

Meanwhile – bye for now; and best of luck with your exams.

© 2011 Alexandra Brunel, all rights reserved.

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Headache Pain: Natural Ways To Get Rid Of A Headache – Tip Number Two

When headaches or migraine strike, long-term answers may as well be on the other side of the moon. We need immediate relief, and if we do not wish to take drugs or take many drugs, bodily techniques can help alleviate these unwelcome symptoms.

As well as breathing, one of the things that goes haywire during a headache is our internal thermostat. The head feels very hot as more and more blood rushes through the dilating blood vessels to our brains. Changing the body's temperature helps.

There are two ways to approach this, depending on where you are when the problem arises and what resources are available to you at the time: 1) heat up the rest of the body or 2) chill the affected area.

Get into hot water

Headaches generally involve an increase in the blood supply to the brain. Warming the rest of the body helps alleviate the pressure on the brain by creating demand for attention from more distant parts of your body like your hands and feet. There's nothing that does this better than a hot bath. If you can bathe in a darkened room, so much the better (a shower may also help, but not nearly as much.)

  • If you have it, put a little aromatic oil into the hot bath water to encourage you to breathe deeply and relax. Use eucalyptus, marjoram, lavender, Olbas Oil, or even a little Vicks Vapo Rub; some advoc neroli or geranium oils. I think it's down to personal preference.
  • No access to a bath? Try sitting with your hands in two basins of water – one as hot as you can stand it without scaling, one as cold. Use a little aromatic oil in the water, as mentioned above – and cover the basins and your head with a big towel. Stay still for as long as you can.
  • You may also try putting your feet into a basin of hot water – again, as hot as you can safely stand.

Whether in the bath or using the basins, breathe deeply to a slow count of ten, being sure to breath out as fully as you breathe in. As you breathe out, notice where your body is holding tension – and let it go. Try to “send” the pain out through your hands or feet into the water.

If you stay this way for ten to twenty minutes, you'll be surprised how much relief it brings. Applying a drop of your preferred essential oil on the temples or under the nose will provide a plus.

Or maybe, chill out

Conversely, cooling the head and neck with ice packs – kept in the freezer for emergencies – helps too.

  • Use gel-packs rather than hard ice packs – they can be wrapped around the affected area more effectively. Ice cubes or crushed ice secured in a plastic bag make an inexpensive alternative.
  • A bag of frozen peas will do in a pinch or if you're away from home.
  • All should be applied to the part of the head and neck that hurts for a minimum of fifteen minutes. Rest as far as possible away from noise and bright light. Be sure you keep your skin protected from direct contact with surface of the ice. In all cases, breathe deeply.

Last words

Our brains are 70-something percent water, so they say. The natural “air conditioning” system of the brain requires constant replenishment. Somehow or other we forget that – it's easy to get dehydrated.

  • Exercise, hot weather, dieting, consuming alcohol, tea or coffee – all increase dehydration. At certain times of day like mid-morning or late afternoon simply drinking a glass of water can prevent a headache.
  • If you're clubbing or traveling, do take extra care to drink enough water to keep the fluid balance of your body “in the zone.” None of us wants to lose our precious leisure time to headaches or migraine – heaven knows we have little enough of it! If headache does hit while you're out, the wisest path may be to stop and rest with a bottle of water, preferably away from the sun / heat / noise.

But remember: a headache is not your enemy – it's feedback from your body that something is not right. The more you learn about what causes your headaches, the less vulnerable you will be getting them. Do think about it – because prevention is always far better than cure.

© 2011 Alexandra Brunel, all rights reserved.

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Migraines and Cluster Headaches: What Are The Differences?

Many people suffer from extreme headaches, and often make the assumption that what they are suffering from are migraines. However, there is another possibility lurking in the world of head pain, and it is known as a cluster headache. This article discusses the basics of migraines and cluster headaches, and then reviews the key differences between them.

Migraines are what comes to mind when many people think of severe headaches. A migraine is what is known as a vascular head, meaning that it is caused by a combination of chemical release and blood vessel enlargement (known as vasodilation). When a person is suffering from a migraine, the temporal artery enlarges and stretches the nerves surrounding it. The stretching of these nerves leads to the aforementioned chemical release, which causes inflammation, pain, and often leads to further escalation of the temporal artery. In turn, these leads to further chemical release, resulting in more pain. Migraine headaches typically involve a deep throbbing and pulsating pain. Migraines are often thought to be triggered by allergic reactions, exposure to bright lights, loud sounds, or certain odors / perfumes, physical or emotional stress, alcohol, caffeine, or skipping meals.

A cluster headache, or “suicide headache” as it is often referred to, has left authorizations baffled as to its exact cause, but FMRI scans and other medical imaging have led researchers to suspect that the hypothalamus plays a role, as it shows increased activity during a cluster headache. A cluster bout typically involves a sharp, stabbing pain, typically felt behind the eye on the afflicted side. The triggers that are associated with cluster headaches include alcohol, nitroglycerin, hydrocarbons, heat, chocolate, and taking naps (which could interfere with sleep cycles and chemical release).

Although both migraines and clusters are “headaches”, they are vastly different afflictions to suffer from in some ways, and very similar in others .. A person suffering from cluster headaches will experience much more severe pain than the migraine sufferer. Both types of headaches are likely to hurt on only one side of the head, although a migraine may affect both sides of the head. A migraine sufferer will want to avoid light, sound, and remain as still as possible during an episode, and a cluster head victim will also want to avoid light and sound, but a key difference is that a person suffering from a cluster headache will move around and writhe, seemingly unable to stay still. Cluster, unlike migraines, are typically not associated with a prodromal aura (visual disturbances before the headache). Cluster sufferers, like migraine sufferers tend to experience a lot of nausea, but unlike migraine sufferers, rarely vomit. Another key difference between the two types of headaches involves the eye-watering and the “nasal-release”. A migraine victim typically has none of these symptoms, whereas a person suffering from a cluster headache will often experience a watering of the eye on the afflicted side of the head, along with a runny nose only on the afflicted side's nostril.

An interesting difference is found when looking at the gender of who suffers from each type of headache. Males suffer more from cluster headaches four to seven times more than females, whereas females suffer more from migraines. In addition, a cluster headache typically peaks after about 45 minutes, whereas a migraine may last for hours at a time. Last, but not least, a migraine may arise at any time of day, but cluster headaches are known to begin at the same time, over and over.

Cluster pain is often assumed to be a migraine, and many medical personnel often assume that a cluster sufferer is a migraine sufferer, but the problem with this misdiagnosis is that migraine drugs and treatment regimens seem to be ineffective when dealing with a cluster headache, therefore it is important to discern between them.

If you think you suffer from either of these ailments, it is best not to try and self-diagnose, and instead you should visit a physician or neurologist for a medical diagnosis and have an open conversation about your particular symptoms. Although both of these conditions are painful, they are manageable with the appropriate medical advice. In addition, there are a wide variety of websites and support groups to assist you in dealing with either ailment. If you know someone afflicted with either of these ailments, it is also a good idea to educate yourself in order to help provide guidance, support, and understanding for the sufferer.

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Headaches – Reaching Epidemic Status

Studies over the last few years have shown that over the last couple decades, chronic migraine headaches have increased dramatically among the US population. There has been close to a 60% increase in rates over the last few years. Most of this increase has occurred in adults younger than 45 years, and women are slightly more affected than men. Part of the problem has to do with extensive use of computers and the forward head post that comes with that. Stress has also been shown to be a major contributor to migraines.

Studies have shown that migraine headaches have affected 80% of woman and 70% of men enough to warrant at least one doctor visit per year and hospitals at least one per year occurs at a rate of 8% for women and 7% of men. In addition, functional capacity has been greatly reduced in 4% of men and 3% of woman, both of which reported chronic limitation due to migraines and associated symptoms.

With all the dollars spent on doctor visits, hospitals, medications and disability payments, migraine headaches are definitely having a major impact on today's society. The economic burden of the many days of work that are lost due to migraines is astronomical. Many sufferers never see a doctor but self medicate with over-the-counter medications like Advil and Aleve. The use of these drugs has increased exponentially over the past ten years. All of this “treatment” has had little effect on the occurrence of headaches, or shown a healthy way to any sort of lasting cure. Many of these medications have side effects that include headaches.

The use of chiropractic in the treatment of migraines headaches has been shown to be very effective. Studies show that chiropractic treatment compares favorably or more effective than medications, massage or just exercises alone. These studies also show that these benefits are increased in both the short term and long term.Tension and loss of motion in the neck has been shown to be the cause of many of these types of headaches and chiropractic addresses these components with gentle adjustments to the spine and postural exercises to improve the spinal function. Dietary changes may also be implemented as many foods aggravate or even trigger the migraines. Medications have been shown to, at best, mask the symptoms and most often to be ineffective and possibly cause even more problems with their side effects.

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Headaches: Tips for Management and Prevention

Headaches are a complicated subject because there are many different headache types and there are often many factors involved in their development (often, there is not one single identifiable cause). This article serves as an introduction to the topic of heads with some tips about management and prevention. More information about headache classification can be found on the International Headache Society website.

The most common type of headache, responsible for ~ 90% of all headings, is a tension type headache (TTH). Pain quality is described as a tensor band squeezing the head, bilateral across the temples and / or around the base of the skull. TTHs, along with a few other head types have musculoskeletal components to their etiology. For example, tight muscles in the neck and shoulders and the joints of the neck and jaw can refer pain to the head. Overall posture and especially head carriage can be responsible for the development of joint irritation and muscle tension that results in headache development.

Management and Prevention Tips:

1) Have a proper evaluation:

Most headaches are benign in origin but having a proper diagnosis is important because the management may differ. In addition, certain “red flags” may indicate a pathology that must be taken seriously. Make sure to consult with a healthcare professional if the headache is different, different from your typical headache has an abrupt onset or is associated with trauma, neurological signs, fever, other unusual symptoms or if you have concerns.

2) Create a headache diary:

If you have headaches frequently, creating a diary diary may be beneficial. This will help identify your possible triggers such that you can avoid them. Jot down what you were doing, eating, drinking, feeling, the type of environment you were in, the quality of your sleep, and amount of stress you felt during the 24 hours prior to headache sunset. When you see a health professional about your headaches, you can also discuss your headache diary.

3) Avoid headache triggers:

Once you establish your headache triggers, you can try avoiding them. Some common triggers are food sensitivity / allergy, coffee, alcohol, stress, dehydration, loud sounds, bright lights, hunger and poor sleep. Wear sunglasses if bright light triggers your headache.

4) Improve your posture:

Headaches are often associated with posture – especially head carriage. Having optimal post reduces the stress on muscles, joints and ligaments that can otherwise refer pain to the head resulting in a headache. The largest culprit is the forward head carriage where the chin and head jut forward relative to the shoulders. The muscles of the neck must work harder and tense to counterbalance the weight of the head (which is like a bowling ball sitting on your neck). Forward head carriage is common in students and office workers who slip forward at a computer for hours each day. Loss of the normal curve of the neck may also be associated with headaches due to joint irritation. A chiropractor can provide you with specific exercises for improving post and advice regarding office ergonomics.

5) Exercise regularly:

Regular cardiovascular exercise is good for overall health and stress relief.

6) Stop smoking:

Smoke may be an allergen that triggers headaches. In addition, nicotine has an effect on the vascular system and the vascular system is thought to trigger certain types of headaches – especially migraines.

7) Reduce stress:

Overall stress reduction may help headache sufferers. Take some time to enjoy hobbies, socialize and exercise so that there is balance between work and play. Some stress relieving activities include yoga, Thai chi and meditation.

8) Regular sleep pattern:

Getting enough sleep is just as important as maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle. There are natural fluctuations in the body – for hormone levels, sugar levels and enzyme levels – which are affected by sleep-wake cycle. These are known as circadian rhythms. Disruption of circadian rhythms may be responsible for headaches in some people. As far as quantity of sleep goes, the typical recommendation is 8 hrs of uninterrupted sleep per night. The best sleep positions for the back and neck are on your back or side (never sleep on your stomach).

9) Find a cool dark place to nap:

Sometimes when a headache hits, the best thing to do is to lay down and let the headache run its course.

10) Apply cold or heat

Applying a cool, moist cloth across the forehead or base of the skull can be especially good for relieving headache pain.

11) Visit your chiropractor:

As previously mentioned, headaches are often associated with tight muscles and dysfunction of joints of the neck or jaw. Regular spinal check-ups and adjustments as part of a wellness plan help keep heads away in many people. Chiropractors are also trained to identify red flags associated with headaches and to refer accordingly if necessary.

12) Other:

Other natural methods for headache relief include acupuncture and massage therapy.

Headaches can be significantly disruptive to everyday life. I hope these tips have been helpful.

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