Are headaches as routine as your morning coffee? Three experts from the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California-Irvine give you ways to attack the pain using basic changes in behavior.
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What Could Be Making Your Head Hurt?
A General Practitioner's View: Wadie Najm, M.D.
"Stress is the No. 1 condition I treat in my office, and it manifests itself in each person's life differently. My first step with patients is to take a detailed personal history and family background. Chronic headaches can often be linked to little habits they've formed to compensate for feeling overwhelmed. Fatigue and tension can be a great strain on the muscles that support the head."
1. Target your tension. In a "progressive muscle relaxation," start with your shoulders and deliberately tense one part of your body at a time until you reach your toes. This helps loosen the tightness that can lead to pain, including such overlooked headache triggers as jaw clenching.
2. Do yoga frequently. It can help ease muscle tension, improve your breathing, and correct neck-and-head alignment issues. And it's exercise, which provides a general good feeling.
3. Meditate in the middle of the day: Just 20 minutes can provide "massive stress relief."
A Naturopath's View: Dayna Kowata, Naturophatic Doctor and Licensed Acupuncturist
"A patient will often be referred to me when she suspects her blood sugar, vitamin, or adrenal levels may be unbalanced. Many opt to have blood tests done: a deficiency in a basic nutrient, such as magnesium, can present itself as a headache. The body will use pain as a primary wake-up call. A headache could be its way of telling you something's off."
1. Keep a detailed food diary for seven days. "Even though it sounds counterintuitive, it's often the food you eat the most that could be causing your headaches," Kowata says. Discuss your diary with a naturopathic doctor.
2. Drink a quart of water daily for every 50 pounds of body weight you have. "If cells or tissues aren't hydrated, they don't perform to the best of their ability," she says.
3. Try acupuncture: "It can provide some relief, as well as address the root issues," Kowata says. (You can also try this acupressure trick at home.)
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A Physical Therapist's View: Gail Wetzler
"Patients often come to me because their back hurts; what many don't realize is that the same issue might be causing their headaches. My first step would be to look at posture because patients could be positioning themselves without knowing it in a way that leads to pain. For example, if you hold your head off to your right side all day long, you could be overcontracting one side of your body and overstretching the other, and that will compress the neurovascular system."
1. Sleep on your side with proper support: A medium pillow will help align your head and neck and keep you from snoring, thereby helping you stay asleep. More sleep means fewer headaches.
2. Stretch your shoulders. "Bring your shoulders up and down a few times, stretch your arms, and then let your head roll right to left and nod up and down," Wetzler says. "This will help get a good blood supply to the area."
3. See a physical therapist. She can take a detailed look at ways your body could be pressuring your cranium, from the ergonomics of your desk chair to nerves you're tensing.
Don't forget to make healthy choices in the kitchen, too!