My Epic Battle with Chronic Tension Headaches
Headaches are very common, especially among women. For the past three years, I’ve been battling chronic headaches. Often times during the past few years, my headaches were a daily phenomenon. I started to resort to a daily dose of ibuprofen (popularly known as Advil) which was very helpful for a while; but unfortunately led to side effects. And the ibuprofen never did anything to actually reduce the frequency of my headaches. Nope. The drugs would just perpetuate the headaches which is good for the drug manufacturing companies but was not good for me.
Eventually, I realized that getting rid of my headache problem would not involve over the counter or prescription drugs – but that realization was a long time coming. First I waited a year and a half for an appointment with a headache specialist. This sounded promising: If it takes that long to get an appointment, she must be very good, I thought. Indeed, I’ve heard testemonials that this specialist does help a lot of people. But she was not able to help me — prescription drugs, her specialty, were not the answer for me. There was a honeymoon period when I felt great but before long I developed a drug resistance. Indeed I had become resistant to the prescription medications and over the counter pills including Ibuprofen and acetaminophen (popularly known as Tylenol).
Now even if I wanted to resort to the easy pop a pill remedy, I couldn’t. I was forced to find real solutions (thank goodness!)
Treatment for headaches is individualistic — different people benefit from different types of treatments so the following is simply an array of options you may want to consider if you are also suffering from chronic tension headaches. The only option I’m not going to list is medication. There may be times when you’re desperate for a quick fix, but these times should be few and far between. If you’re taking over-the-counter pain killers more than once or twice a month, you need to seek other solutions because these drugs will make you dependent on them. This means your headaches could become more frequent, as a result of over-using pain killers.
These are the natural ways that helped me in my epic battle with tension headaches:
- Relieving muscular tension through Massage: Massage can be very helpful for tension headaches and early on, when my headaches were less complicated, a simple massage brought me pain relief that could last for weeks. Clearly muscular tension and trigger points in muscles are huge triggers for head aches. But even though I was getting massages, and stretching out my neck and body, the headaches still managed to grow more frequent. I realize now that getting a massage was a good fix but didn’t address the antecedents of the problem and as the problem grew worse, the massages were no longer enough to bring me relief. On the good side, massages are harmless and do not have any side effects. If you’re getting regular headaches, going for massage is a great way to get some relief.
- Relieving dural tension through Osteopathy: Osteopathy went deeper than massage by addressing the fascia of the body that was creating tension beyond the muscular layer. The fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds and holds together all the muscles, blood vessels, nerves and internal organs of your body. The dura mater, specifically, is the outer membrane that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. Stretching the fascia and the dura mater is much harder than stretching muscles — you need a professional osteopath who is trained to address this level of tension. Indeed, osteopathy helped me a lot. The headaches subsided for days and even weeks — but they still would come back within two to three weeks after a treatment.
- Improving Posture through Pilates: Although far less frequently now, I was continuing to get head aches despite the osteopathy treatments because I wasn’t able to maintain the changes to my body that osteopathy was making. I have poor posture – like so many people – from spending too much time at the computer and working as massage therapist. I was continually hunched over and as a result my head and neck were too far forward and not aligned with the rest of my body. I took some rehabilitative pilates and it seemed to help improve my posture and flexibility. Now the headaches seemed even more infrequent but there was room for improvement still.
- Avoidance of coffee and other headache triggers: This seemed to be the last piece of my headache puzzle! Coffee is a stimulant and as such it affects the brain. One cup a day had a huge affect on me. It gave me a big jolt of course, but it also gave me a head ache. Kicking the habit altogether made a huge difference to my headaches. I also learned recently that camomile tea gives me head aches. Most alcohol (accept wine it seems) can also be deadly for me. It’s good to know what your triggers are!
I now get headaches less often and they don’t last very long when they do come. Some of my old triggers (like spending a lot of time at a computer, or eating too much or too quickly) don’t seem to trigger headaches for me any more. In general, I don’t feel as vulnerable to getting headaches and I feel a lot better.
Marianne Premuzic, RMT