This Article was originally published in the Oct/ November issue of Oasis Magazine.
Treating headaches is probably one of the most rewarding aspects of my role as a physiotherapist. Many people can get away with popping a couple of over the counter pain killers and getting on with their day. But for those of us who have suffered from severe head or face pain, or eye symptoms which can include light sensitivity and blurred vision, we understand how debilitating a headache can be. One of the reasons I’ve been so successful with treating headaches is that I work using a very specific technique to assess and treat the top three bones of the neck, pioneered by the Watson Headache institute. Other techniques I’ve found effective include craniosacral therapy, medical acupuncture and specialised rehab exercises. Interestingly, some of these can even give great relief to people with symptoms of vertigo and post-concussion syndrome.
However, we all lead busy lives and sometimes we need a quick way to relieve pain quickly, without waiting for a physio appointment! I’ve compiled a list of 5 things you can do at home to try and nip that headache in the bud!
1. AcupressureThe upper trapezius muscles (on the top of your shoulders) are one of the groups which can refer pain to your head- if you find a tender muscle point (“trigger point”) that’s referring pain, press and hold it for 90 seconds to see if the pain will ease afterwards. Most people with headaches will have tenderness and possibly swelling in the muscles at the base of the skull, which can also be massaged to give relief. In those whose head pain may be aggravated by chronic sinus issues, I use medical acupuncture with great success- but you can sometimes get results from applying pressure with your fingertips (acupressure) to these points also.
2. Foam roller/ belt/ tennis balls.There are lots of ways to use tennis balls to release trigger points. Foam rollers can also be used to loosen stiff thoracic spines and self-massage some tight muscles of the body. On my website, I’ve made a video showing 2 techniques for self-relief of headaches (http://www.wellnessembodiedcairns.com/physiovideos/2-short-techniques-for-headache-management). I advise these should only be done if they relieve pain within the first couple of minute and certainly not to the point of aggravating pain.
3. Posture.Most of us have heard it before, but poor posture really does influence everything from pain levels to mood. Unfortunately, many of us spend too long sitting and at desks, with chins poked forwards and deep neck stabilising muscles which are getting weaker as a result. A physiotherapy assessment will be able to correct your posture and workstation, accurately diagnose any muscle imbalances you may have developed from poor postures and advise you on ways to strengthen to prevent future pain.
4. Essential OilsI’m a Wellness advocate for Do Terra and personally, I swear by their Ice Blue blend- I had an accident which broke my jaw several years ago and get instantaneous relief from applying this directly to the site of pain. But there are lots of other oil combinations you can try- either in a diffuser to clear your head (try DoTerra Easy Air), on your pulse points (try DoTerra AromaTouch), or massaged into tender muscles.
5. Diet and hydrationDrinking more water is probably one of the most frequently given pieces of advice for those suffering from headaches, because it works. Often headaches are due to blood vessel constriction- more fluid in the body can mean more blood flow. It’s also worth examining your diet- gluten and wheat intolerances are commonly cited causes of headaches. There are many excellent professionals such as naturopaths, dieticians and doctors with an interest in integrative medicine who can help you to identify if any of these are triggers for you and assist you in making changes to your diet.