Can’t think straight? Struggling to do basic tasks, or even carry a conversation? You’re not alone – a pounding head can be overwhelming and debilitating, affecting more than 90 percent of the population over the course of their lives. It’s one of the most common forms of chronic pain, with women 50 percent more likely to suffer than men, according to a study by the Atlanta Centre for Behavioural Medicine in America. The facts may sound disheartening, but luckily there are lots of ways to prevent a headache, as well as many methods to soothe the pain so you don’t have to crawl into bed and wait for it to go away.
Is there any way to prevent a headache?
Review your lifestyle
“If you’re getting the same repetitive headaches, take a look at factors such as stress, anxiety, sleep, exercise, diet and hormones,” says Dr Steve Allder, consultant neurologist at Re:Cognition Health (recognitionhealth.com). “If you can, try to make lifestyle adjustments, including reducing tension, increasing your snoozing time and drinking more water to improve and ultimately eliminate the onset of pain. Many people also have success with non-drug complementary treatments, such as chiropractors and cranial therapy, so there are alternative options that you could explore.”
Keep a diary
Knowing what your headache triggers are will help you work out how to avoid them, explains Dr Allder. “Record the pain intensity on a scale of one to 10, the location and type of pain, the duration, your menstrual cycle (if applicable), and any other symptoms, such as vomiting, noise or light sensitivity, restricted vision, and ability to perform tasks.” You could also include all of the food you’ve eaten and drinks you’ve had during the day, any medication you take, the time you wake up and go to bed, and exercise you’ve done.
This treatment, which is derived from ancient Chinese medicine, could be instrumental in preventing pain, as consultant neurologist Dr Nicholas Silver (spirehealthcare.com), tells us. “According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, a course of acupuncture can sometimes be beneficial in reducing the frequency of headaches. This is the technique of piercing the body with a solid needle for therapeutic purposes. It’s believed that acupuncture can help in different ways, including the release of endorphins and affecting serotonin levels in the brain.”
How can I deal with the pain once it’s there?
You may not feel like it when you’re suffering, but this practice could be the answer. “Yoga provides a great, natural way to help alleviate and even prevent headaches,” says Susie Howell, celebrity yoga teacher and director of Ibiza Retreats (ibizaretreats.com). “Just doing simple yoga postures and breathing techniques for a few minutes every day helps to improve your head and neck posture, relieve stress and anxiety and release tension in your body.” Try Susie’s top moves to solve your pounding head:
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, inhale and then exhale. As you do, bend forward, hinging from your hips and bring your hands down to rest on the ground or on your shins, releasing your neck. Hold for 30 seconds while concentrating on breathing into your diaphragm and abdomen. Slowly curl back up to a standing position.
Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Begin on your hands and knees, then push into your hands and bring your bottom to rest on your heels. Open your legs slightly so your stomach can sit between your thighs. Rest your forehead on the ground and your palms facing upwards. Hold this pose for one to two minutes, observing your breath.
… or face yoga
It might sound strange, but bear with us! “This is a useful tool for reducing and preventing headaches,” says expert Danielle Collins (faceyogaexpert.com). “Many of the techniques are derived from eastern philosophies, such as acupressure, which can have a healing affect on the body and mind. Try pressing your temples for 30 seconds, and then massaging for 30 seconds – this is a simple way to ease a tension headache. Another helpful spot is the top of your head. Press the point there which feels a little tender for 30 seconds and then massage to balance your whole system. Using all of your fingers to stroke outwards along your forehead will relax your frontalis muscle, which often gets quite tight, exacerbating headaches. Doing this up to 10 times a day is also a great way to prevent lines forming here. Lastly, breathing deeply in and out through your nose is a powerful way to feel deeply relaxed, easing tension and pain. Take five minutes a day to do this, as it will oxygenate your entire body and keep headaches at bay.”
The key to beating the pain could lie in your garden, as there are lots of plants and herbs that can be used as a remedy for headaches. Ginger root is great for relieving tension and it controls inflammation – add it to boiling water to either drink or inhale. Another good herb is peppermint oil, with a study at the University of Kiel in Germany discovering that it helped to numb pain when applied to the forehead.