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There are different types of headaches women (and some men) suffer from: tension headaches, cluster headaches, migraines, rebound headaches and temporal arteritis to name the major categories. The debate on headache etiology as well as their drug treatments is as diverse as the categories. However, just because the verdict remains out on the biochemical cause of headaches, migraines in particular, doesn’t mean we can not effectively naturally treat them, or better yet abort it completely before the symptoms become painful.
Often hormones are named as the culprit responsible for women’s headache difficulties. However, hormonal imbalances are often a result of an overall imbalance within a woman’s physical, emotional and mental system. Hormonal influences have been linked to a woman’s nutrition, digestion and stress. What causes a headache depends on a woman’s individual situation, including her posture/alignment, stress factors, nutrition and medical history.
Balance & Awareness: Like other recurring pains in the body, headaches can be seen as the body’s way of getting your attention and telling you something is out of balance. Addressing the overall balance of the body is no little thing, yet the improved health and vitality make your efforts well worth it. The first step in addressing the body’s state of balance is to put on your detective hat, the one called awareness. Most chronic headaches can be helped by lifestyle and dietary changes. Therefore our journey towards well being and the end to headache pain begins with a heightened awareness of our daily life in order to determine our triggers to imbalance and pain.
Daily Headache Journal: The most practical way to enhance awareness around this issue is a headache journal or headache diary. Keeping a daily record of key factors such as tracking everything you eat, drink, exercise, stressors and emotional fluxuations along with when and where you felt a headache coming on. Track the quality, quantity and duration of your headache as well as where you are in your menstrual cycle. Looking back on this detailed record of your life reveals surprising trends and triggers (both physically, emotionally and environmentally) that can support you committing to a change in lifestyle or diet that result in your well being. A detailed account of events and behaviors for 4-6 weeks may be the best investment of your time and energy you will ever make if it results in you becoming pain free. Besides, it is also an opportunity for you to take a closer look at just how well you know and care for the most important person in your life, YOU.
Nutrition & Digestion: Most people who suffer from headaches are aware that diet is certainly related. For many people, sugar, caffeine and alcohol (particularly red wine) are headache triggers. For others, certain cheeses or wheat are primary triggers. Again, it differs from individual to individual and it includes how well you digest, absorb and eliminate foods. Good digestion and regular daily bowel movements are signs of efficient detoxification and crucial in balancing the body and becoming pain free. If you suffer from constipation, IBS or other intestinal difficulties as well as headaches, then look to addressing these issues digestion issues first.
Alignment & Body Mechanics: However, many people are unaware of the huge influence of body mechanics, posture, alignment and muscular tension upon chronic headaches. How most people sit, work and stand creates abnormal forces and strain at the base of the skull (the sub-occiput) which greatly affects the vascular system of the head (cranium). For what ever reason, most of us were not taught about proper alignment and how to create or maintain it – in school. We were certainly not educated on the affects of alignment on health.
This issue goes beyond just headaches; alignment plays a primary role in many chronic pain disorders. This is not simply an issue of being “put” into alignment with a simple chiropractor crack either (though they have their place in this); it is more about postural awareness and gaining the core strength and muscular flexibility that provides on-going natural proper alignment. This may take some education and personalized program provided by a qualified physical therapist to develop the muscular and skeletal basis for restoring alignment and relieving headache pain.
Hands–on therapy: In addition to developing core (trunk) strength and muscular flexibility, many people with chronic headachesrequire hands-on therapies for both physical structural modification as well as assistance in relaxing. Therapeutic massage, cranio-sacral, myofacial release, reiki, Alexander technique, acupuncture and acupressure are all sited to offer relief for chronic headachers. In fact any form of body work or physical therapy that attends to misalignment and muscular tension may break a pattern of chronic headaches.
Stress Relief: Addressing the many stressors of everyday life is also crucial for combating headaches and restoring overall balance to the body. Relaxation techniques, deep breathing exercises, meditation, gentle yoga, daily exercise and walking are all extremely powerful stress relievers and physical aids available to women today. In addition, these techniques are highly effective in supporting hormonal and immune system health. Furthermore they include the inherent requirement of making time for yourself and attending to your own well being in addition to caring for other duties.
Did you know… that breathing diaphragmatically increases oxygenation to the brain by 10X the volume of the usual improper chest breathing? Learning to breathe correctly is crucial to balancing the autonomic nervous system, oxygenating the body and creating overall good health. The vascular changes from diaphragmatic breathing and deep breathing support the prevention of headache pain.
Exercise: Exercise in general also helps to improve the amount of oxygen needed for proper functioning and improved circulation. Finding a source of cardiovascular exercise that is fun and enjoyable is the key in maintaining follow through and creating a good habit. Even 20 minutes of this “fun” active behavior is enough to make significant changes in the overall balance of the body.
Relieving chronic headaches and restoring balance in one’s body is multi-factorial. It takes a comprehensive approach to wellness and one’s determined efforts. However, the pain free results and improved quality of life make your efforts well worth it!
Kimberly DelVecchio, Licensed Physical Therapist, is the owner of Integrative Physical Therapy in Clifton Park NY.
IPT is a comprehensive physical therapy clinic specializing in women’s health issues.
IPT: 1 Barney Rd. suite 120 Clifton Park, NY 12065. (518) 373-0735. www.InspiredTherapy.com
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