Ranging from a 3 pm coffee-crash throb to an agonising pain that leaves you light-sensitive and nauseated, headaches are something most, if not all of us, have experienced.
Headaches come in all shapes and sizes, from brutal migraines that pulse steadily for up to three days to sinus headaches that make your whole face—from chin to cheeks—feel like it’s in a vice.
Katie Johnston is our expert osteopath and not only is she highly experienced in treating all of our aches and pains but she is particularly passionate about dealing effectively with headaches and migraines.
Here, Katie has rounded up the most common headaches, explains why they sometimes occur and shares her top tips on how to alleviate the agony.
As always, however, please remember, it is important to make an appointment to see a healthcare professional to get a proper diagnosis if you haven’t already. There are many different types of headaches and migraines and getting a correct diagnosis is the first step before receiving the correct treatment.
- Migraine has been linked to a dietary deficiency in magnesium. So eating adequate levels of magnesium can help. Foods rich in magnesium include spinach, fish, nuts and bananas.
- Migraines commonly have triggers which, if eliminated, can help you avoid migraine. If you are unsure what your triggers are, or even if you have any triggers, try keeping a migraine diary. Just make a note whenever you have one with everything you’ve done and eaten in the day leading up to it. You may be able to see a pattern emerging. Common triggers include; caffeine, chocolate, citrus, flashing strip lights/strobe lights, too much/little sleep and missing meals amongst others. Sometimes one trigger isn’t enough to cause a migraine, but having many different triggers can add up to a migraine.
- Losing weight may help individuals to manage their headaches. Obesity has been linked to migraine, so eating healthily and maintaining a healthy weight may reduce the frequency of your headaches.
TMJ Headache (Headache relating to the jaw joint)
Sometimes headaches can link to problems coming from the jaw. Next time you visit the dentist ask if there could be any link between your jaw pain and your headache, or you can always ask your osteopath!
If your jaw is casing your headache there are several things you can do:
- Do you grind your teeth? If so try wearing a gum shield at night.
- If you experience jaw pain or tightness with your headache, try wrapping an ice cube in a flannel or tea towel and holding it against your jaw.
- Open your mouth whilst looking in the mirror. Does your jaw deviate to one side? If so you may have a muscular imbalance, so stretching out your jaw may help. To do this open your jaw trying to hold it to the side away from the side it deviates to, then push your jaw gently against a hand to the side of ease. Hold this position for around 10 seconds and repeat two times. Try to do this two or three times per day.
- If stress causes you to clench your jaw try to take some time out during the day to relax and unclench your jaw. Some people find that using a trigger can help them to remember to check whether they are relaxed; such as checking whether your jaw is relaxed every time you get a text message.
Sometimes drinking too much caffeinated drinks (such as cola, coffee, energy drinks or tea) can lead to headaches, or headaches can be caused when your caffeine intake dips below normal – you know that feeling when you know you need a coffee as your head is starting to ache.
- Try monitoring your daily caffeine intake. How much caffeine are you consuming? The amount of caffeine that each person can consume varies between individuals, but generally for adults, a maximum of three cups should be fine.
- Try to decrease your caffeine intake and replace it with other drinks such as green tea, herbal tea, juice, or caffeine free versions. Some people opt to go ‘cold turkey’ but this can be difficult and lead to more headaches, light headedness and feeling generally unwell. It may be sensible to reduce your caffeine intake gradually instead.
Eye strain can lead to a number of headaches, which may mimic migraine or cluster headache (where severe pain occurs in one area on one side of the head). Strain through the eye muscles can cause irritation along the trigeminal nerve which supplies sensation to the face and can trigger headache.
It is important to get your eyes tested if you are experiencing headaches, as glasses may correct any cause of your headache. If this doesn’t fully resolve the problem try taking breaks from your desk when at work or trying some eye exercises to strengthen muscles. Your osteopath may even be able to stretch your eye muscles out for you!
Tension Type Headache
These are the most common headaches I see. These headaches are caused by muscle tension leading to chronic contraction of the muscles of the neck and shoulders, which leads to muscle fatigue and pain.
The NHS recommend taking painkillers for this type of headache and this can work well in the short term. However, in the long run taking pain killers for headaches can lead to headaches being caused by the medication (known as rebound headaches) so self help techniques are often a better way to treat these headaches.
Manual Therapy such as osteopathy, massage, physiotherapy, may also help many sufferers to reduce the frequency of their headaches. Good practitioners will also give a series of personalised exercises to help prevent future problems reoccurring.
Self Help Techniques
- Try placing an ice pack wrapped in a tea towel across the shoulders as this can help sooth any muscle irritation. However, some people find that this causes them to seize up, so you may prefer to try a warm (not too hot!) hot water bottle or wheat bag.
- Massage your neck and shoulders, holding any tender parts until the pain goes away. It’s not easy to do this yourself so you might want to ask someone to do it for you.
- Do some gentle stretches. Keeping your head and neck upright, move your head slowly in different directions and hold the neck for around 10 seconds when you begin to feel a stretch.
- Try to relax. You can either try relaxation techniques or simple exercise will also help you to relax.