The umbrella term headache actually covers a wide variety of symptoms – both in terms of location and intensity.
Moderately painful but very common, a tension headache can make you feel as if your head is in a vice, with the pain sometimes radiating down your neck. While tension headaches tend to be an occasional occurrence, this is not the case for migraines which are characterised by the chronic nature of attacks: they are more intense and mostly affect one side of the head, generating throbbing pain which is exacerbated by movement. They may be preceded by an aura, a collection of - thankfully reversible - neurological symptoms (flashing lights, numbness, speech impairment …) (1)
Though the exact causes of a headache remain difficult to pinpoint, there are now a number of recognized aggravating factors: intense emotion, poor quality sleep, environmental changes, bad posture and untreated vision problems. The good news, however, is that natural techniques exist to combat them!
Migraine attacks often produce photophobia and phonophobia - the inability to tolerate either light or noise (2). In such cases, you need to lie down comfortably in a quiet, darkened room, with the shutters or curtains drawn.
At the first sign of a headache, you can prevent it from taking hold by releasing any accumulated tension with a gentle head massage (3). Focus on the most sensitive areas, for example:
If you’re prone to headaches, you can use these massage techniques regularly in a preventive capacity.
It could be that your diet has something to do with your recurring headaches. Several studies suggest a link between a lack of certain vitamins and a propensity for migraines. Deficiencies in vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin D in particular, have been observed in migraine-sufferers (4-5).
To optimize your daily vitamin intake and boost your defenses against headaches, choose a multivitamin supplement (such as Daily 3, which contains no less than 12 vitamins and 8 minerals).
Through breathing, relaxation and visualisation exercises, sophrology helps you manage your headaches better, whatever form they take. You learn to distract yourself from the pain of an attack, as well as to control the ‘anticipatory fear of migraine‘ – a completely legitimate fear when the pain of a pounding head is all too common an occurrence. It’s worth noting that hypnosis can give excellent results too (6).
For relief of both mild headaches and severe migraines, applying a damp facecloth is a tried and tested solution. But should you use hot or cold water? It all depends on the type of headache!
For a tension headache, perhaps caused by too much work in front of a screen, a hot compress placed on the cervical vertebrae is excellent for relaxing over-tense muscles. Heat is also recommended for migraines accompanied by an aura which usually start with vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels).
Migraines without an aura, however, normally involve vasodilation (widening of blood vessels). Applying a cold compress for its constricting effect would thus seem to be the better option here (7).
Yet again, we have to mention our old friend stress as it plays a significant role in the onset of headaches and migraine attacks. In particular, stress produces neuro-muscular tension which can creep up to the head. It’s therefore important to protect yourself from its effects as much as possible. Nature has happily provided us with a formidable living pharmacopoeia which we should take full advantage of!
Very popular for its sweet scent, true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) plays a role in relaxation and in promoting good quality sleep (8-9). Essential oil of lavender can be found in certain calming formulations (such as Organic Relaxing Oil Blend, a synergistic supplement combining essential oils of true lavender, mandarin zest and caraway, all organically-grown).
Naturopaths also recommend white willow bark, rich in salicin, a molecule chemically very similar to aspirin (opt, for example, for Willow Bark Extract).
From head to toe, the effects of reflexology are but one quick step away! According to this key discipline from ancient China, stimulating the reflex zone connected to the brain revitalises cerebral blood flow, thus helping to stop a migraine in its tracks(12).
You’ll find this reflex zone on the lower part and sides of the big toe. When pain strikes, massage these areas for 10 minutes using a plant oil or lotion. A safe and ingenious tip to keep in mind and have at your fingertips!
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