What causes headaches?
They’re one of the most common medical complaints on the planet, but the precise cause of headaches may still be a mystery. A headache can be sharp or dull, felt on either side of the head or all over, and last anywhere from an hour to a few days. The World Health Organisation divides headaches into ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’, depending on if they are the sole cause of their own symptoms, or are themselves a symptom of another condition.
Primary headaches are caused by some kind of inflammation of the nerves, blood vessels or or muscles of the head or neck, or a change in chemical activity in the brain.
Secondary headaches may happen as a result of another condition, including:
- Alcohol consumption (hangover)
- Night-time teeth grinding
- Brain tumour
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
There is no need to panic if you experience mild to moderate headaches infrequently, but if you start to spot a pattern in the frequency or sensation of your headaches, it is worth checking in with your doctor or optician.
What is the difference between a headache and a migraine?
Migraines are a type of recurrent headache which may be influenced by genetics. They tend to be more severe than a regular tension or cluster headache, and are often accompanied by other symptoms. These may include:
- Temporary vision loss
- Pain behind the eyes
- Seeing flashing lights or bright spots
- Tingling in the hands or face
- Changes in smell or taste
In successfully managing your migraines, it’s important to monitor and understand your personal triggers. These may be emotional or hormonal, related to contraception, or linked to alcohol consumption.
Many women experience a peak in migraine symptoms during the menopause.
Natural headache relief
It is often possible to calm a headache with painkillers, and there are various types of heavy-duty medications you can take to manage your migraines. However, as both secondary headaches and migraines are triggered by something external, you may have more success by learning to intercept before the headache or migraine has even begun.
If you are trying to tackle headache pain naturally, it’s worth trying to:
- Drink more water: dehydration is a major factor in causing headaches, particularly following alcohol consumption.
- Take a break from screens: ensure you’re not over-straining your eyes by looking away from your computer every 20 minutes.
- Explore mouthguards: if you’re a night-time teeth grinder or hold a lot of tension in your jaw, your dentist may suggest a mouthguard to break the habit and release these muscles.
- Stretch your muscles: increase your exercise levels and try a massage to release tension in your neck and shoulders.
- Improve your diet: sugar can be a headache trigger for many people, so consider decreasing your consumption over time.
Massage for a headache
Massage has been shown to be effective in reducing some of the causes of headaches; particularly tension headaches caused by tight muscles in the head and neck. It can also soothe and reduce many of the symptoms of migraines, helping you to relax and get a good night’s sleep.
Deep Tissue Massage is the most effective treatment for headaches, as it releases even the most ingrained knots and tension by bringing blood and oxygen to the area. Because of this, regular massages can also be a preventative measure.
If you are recovering from a particularly overwhelming migraine, it may be worth trying a gentle Relaxing Massage. This will put less pressure on your body, helping you to ease into a meditative, blissed-out state.
Pressure points for headaches
If you’re looking for immediate release at home, you can try some of the Reflexology principles used in acupressure to clear your energetic channels.
The most well known are:
- Union Valley: Use one hand to pinch the fleshy point between the thumb and forefinger of the other, adding other types of firm manipulation if it feels good. You may need to do this for 5-10 minutes before feeling a release.
- Bright Lights: Using one or both hands, pinch the bridge of the nose, just below the tip of the eyebrows.
- Heaven’s Pillar: Walk both hands down about two inches from the base of your skull, on either side of your spine (or ask a friend to help you). If you apply pressure as you move around the area you may even be able to feel a knot. Press until you experience the sensation of release. Remember to avoid the spine itself as only those professionally trained in anatomy should work on this area.