The feeling is familiar: a band squeezing your skull, a dull ache in the back of your neck, pain and pressure on both sides of your head. It’s a tension headache, and it’s by far the most common type of headache – approximately 90% of women and 70% of men will experience at least one during their lifetime. While tension headaches are not typically indicative of something serious, they can be very painful and debilitating. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes tension headaches but there are very common triggers. Things such as stress, depression, hunger, poor posture, poor sleep and muscle strain and, in women, hormonal fluctuations, can trigger tension headaches. Naturopathic medicine provides treatment alternatives to pharmaceutical interventions with comparable success and fewer side effects.
Acupuncture is effective at preventing rebound headaches that occur when weaning a patient off prescription and over-the-counter painkillers (people who regularly take these medications can suffer a headache as soon as the pills wear off). In addition to helping patients transition off medications, acupuncture can help patients relax and address the root cause of the headaches; what’s more, a recent review of research found that the technique could halve the number of days a month a person experiences head pain.
Homeopathic medicine uses remedies to address both acute conditions and constitutional, chronic issues; this makes it a great method to symptomatically address acutely triggered headaches but also to treat the underlying disharmonies that make one susceptible to headaches. Because the philosophy of homeopathic medicine states that the body’s response to an illness is the correct one, they give heavily diluted substances – often the herbs nux vomica and belladonna for headaches – that are supposed to mimic the patient’s symptoms, thereby helping the body defend and heal itself. Homeopathy helps the body to rebalance itself. Often, the patient can begin to feel much better after one treatment.
There is significant relationship between nutrients and headaches; many studies have found that headache sufferers are often deficient in key nutrients – primarily magnesium, coenzyme Q10, riboflavin, and vitamin D. Up to 50% of headache sufferers can be magnesium deficient. Magnesium can ease muscle spasms and alter brain chemicals thought to play a role in headaches. There are a variety of blood tests used to measure nutrient levels, but most Naturopaths rely on the analysis of a diet diary completed by the patient for 1 week to determine if any nutrients may be deficient. If a patient doesn’t eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, is under a lot of stress, or is a frequent drinker, a nutrient deficiency is more likely to be contributing and nutritional supplementation may be warranted. Often dietary modifications are recommended to help reduce the frequency of headaches; there are a number of foods commonly associated with triggering headaches such as wine, aged cheeses, citrus and MSG. In addition, foods that the individual may be sensitive to may be eliminated from the to assess whether they are contributing to the headaches.
Hydrotherapy is a great treatment for headaches you can try at home. All you will need is 2 small towels, 2 large bowls and either an ice pack or ice cubes. Fill one basin with ice water and one basin with hot tap water (no greater than 114o F). Soak one towel in each basin. Wring out hot towel and place on the back of the neck for 3 minutes. Remove this towel and replace it with the iced towel for 30 seconds. Repeat the hot and cold applications three times each.
Acupuncture and homeopathy are worth considering as adjunct therapies once you are sure that the headache is not a sign of a serious disorder. In addition, dietary modification and appropriate nutrient supplementation can provide relief; hydrotherapy is a great tool to try at home. Natural therapies and the addition of a Naturopathic doctor to one’s healthcare team provides individualized care and innovative strategies for treating headaches.