Monday, October 8, 2012

Headache help, questions answered

Recently, several people have asked me about headaches. So I thought maybe I should share my response. In good health, Tamar

Headaches generally fall into 3 categories:
  1. cluster headaches are the most rare, they are the most severe, and can last for 30 seconds in bursts up to days.
     2. Migraine headaches have several triggers, and the easiest way to control them (other than really great prescription drugs), is to find the triggers and eliminate them. I'll get back to that. But one of the triggers can be tension headaches.

    3. Tension headaches are caused by tight muscles. But here's the thing, tight muscles can come from SO many things:
  • sleeping/sitting in the wrong position (over stressing a muscle, knocking a vertebra out of line)
  • stress and literally tightening your muscles from not relaxing or breathing (extremely common in NY)
  • eye strain (which could be from staring at a computer, or TV, or reading in low light, or being in bright sunlight)
  • trigger points (super tight knots in any muscle which pulls on fascia.) NOTE: Trigger points can be latent or active. Active ones you feel from the outside and from the inside. They hurt when you push on them. Latent ones may be more buried and only flare up when they want to. To release a trigger point, you put direct pressure on it (with a thumb or tool) til there's a pain of about 6 or 7 (on a 1 to 10 scale) and simply hold it til the pain goes away. There could be many small trigger points on the scalp or in the neck/shoulders.
When tension headaches go on too long, they can cause migraines. Migraines are classified as any headache that lasts a long time. They're usually one sided and throbby. They can cause nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. I know. I get them.

Massage is extremely helpful to control headaches. If it's a tension headache, it's easily helped by the right massage. However, if it's a migraine headache, you generally don't want to massage because it may make it worse. The idea is to learn how to breathe, take care of yourself, and have relaxed muscles all the time, so you don't get tension headaches. That's where massage is preventative medicine. If you want to massage yourself, or a friend in pain, be sure to check out my blog entry: Massage For Loved Ones.

Also, I find different medicines will work for different kinds of headaches, and then only if you catch it early.  You may have to play around to find the right one.

Triggers: There are a lot of triggers for migraines, other than a tension headache that's gone on too long.
  • sunlight
  • lowlight
  • visual disturbances (video games, tv shows/films that are handheld camera are AWFUL)
  • riding in cars/trains, especially bumpy or twisty ones
  • caffeine (but can also help with migraines)
  • chocolate
  • milk of cow, sheep or goat.
  • bananas, strawberries, eggs, beef, pork
  • gluten, corn, soy, nuts

Some home remedies for migraines (again, you have to catch it early):
  • almonds
  • put the inside of a banana peel on your head (the potasium may help)
  • vitamin C (NOT to be taken with any other blood thinners like Advil/aspirin)
  • massage
  • putting your heads and/or feet into a basin of VERY hot water. It pulls the blood away from your head.
  • coffee or any caffeinated drink
  • a nap in a comfortable position
  • cold compress (or hot) on the forehead/over eyes
  • deep breathing of fresh air and looking at far distances.  

Some stories:
 The worst migraine of my life came when I saw the film, "The Wrestler". The film is shot handheld and extremely shaky. About 15 minutes into the film I thought, oh no, I'm getting a migraine. I took a pill. But it was already too late. Instead of leaving or averting my eyes (which I now do quite often in hand held films), I kept watching. That migraine lasted 3 days and I was really nauseous the whole time.

 My mom used to get migraines. Until she noticed that what she got BEFORE the migraine was a sort of aura/visual disturbance. So now, when she sees the aura, she drinks some caffeinated coffee, breathes, relaxes, and usually she doesn't get the headache.

 The best thing is to write down all food and activities so that when you get a migraine, you can find the pattern. And here's the rub: migraines can come as late as 4 days after the food trigger. Eg: I have a ton of food "allergies" (really intolerance, I don't go into anaphylactic shock). If I have one bite of ice cream, I'll probably be OK. If I have a bowl of ice cream, I may get a migraine 4 days later. And if I have a little milk for 4 days straight, then a few days later I'll be in so much pain, and it's going to last for days. It builds up in your system.

FOOD ALLERGIES:  (and see my THINGS I DON'T LIKE TO TALK ABOUT for more food allergy info)
My mom is allergic to corn, which is in EVERYTHING. White vinegar is made from corn. Baking powder,powdered sugar, vegetable oil, "natural flavorings". You name it. She has a TERRIBLE time eating out or finding products that are properly labeled. And if she eats something with a trace of corn in it, it sets off her allergic reaction and makes her react to many, many more things. Chickens are corn fed. Beef can be corn fed. Fish can be corn fed. Vitamins and...antihistamines for allergies...have corn in it. Awful. So...the more you read, the more you know, but the more frustrating it can be.

Generally, whatever you eat the MOST, is what your body may become allergic to. Wheat, corn, soy, eggs, milk are in almost EVERYTHING. So take some cooking classes, find some headache support websites, and learn to cook from the outside aisles of the grocery store. If it's in a box...don't eat it. It will change your life. The day I got my blood test results, I panicked. I literally couldn't think of one thing to eat or make that didn't have something I was allergic to. I threw out everything in my kitchen. I ate a handful of blueberries (which I now know...I'm allergic to). Then I started taking cooking classes to learn how to cook from scratch so that I can control what I eat. I travel with food. I stock up on food. I have lists of places I can eat when traveling. It's a pain. But it helps.