Holistic Headache Management Strategies
Headaches come in many varieties, can be occasional or chronic, and can range from acute and annoying to debilitating. The most common type is the tension headache, which is brought on by stress, and can be experienced in the back of the head or neck, the forehead, the temples or the face. Stress can be mental, physical, emotional or spiritual. Stress can be the result of long hours of work, eye strain from poor lighting or excessive computer use, poor ergonomics, money concerns, worry about the health and safety of friends, family or oneself or many other factors. The pain drains our energy and reduces quality of life. The first approach to managing tension headaches should be to reduce or eliminate the causes, if possible. Thankfully, there are also a number of effective holistic strategies for managing headaches caused by stress.
Aromatherapy : Many different essential oils can be used in a variety of ways for headache relief, including massage oil blends, foot soaks, compresses and inhalation. Use only pure, therapeutic essential oils – never use fragrance oils, which are often synthetic or diluted. Some examples of antispasmodic and analgesic essential oils : Cajeput, Roman Chamomile, Clary Sage, Eucalyptus, Juniper, Lavender, Spike Lavender, Lemon, Sweet Marjoram, Neroli, Peppermint, Rosemary, Spearmint. Examples of stress reducing essential oils : Sweet Basil, Bergamot, Roman Chamomile, Clary Sage, Geranium Rose, Juniper, Lavender, Lemongrass, Sweet Marjoram, Sandalwood, Ylang Ylang.
Massage : Using a few drops of prepared essential oil blend on your fingers, first cup your hands and inhale the aromatics. Then, massage the temples and along the hairline, or the back of the neck with light pressure in a circular motion for a few minutes. Cup your hands again after the massage and inhale. A Simple Headache Synergy Blend : In a small, dark colored glass bottle, add ½ ounce pure vegetable oil ( I like Jojoba Oil ), 5 drops Peppermint and 10 drops Lavender essential oils, and shake well. Label the bottle, and store away from heat and light. If someone is available to massage your neck and shoulders, this same blend may be used.
Compresses : Cool compresses to the forehead or warm compresses to the neck can offer good headache relief. To a small basin of either cool or warm water, add a few drops each of Lavender and Peppermint oils, or the blend of your choice. Soak a washcloth in the water, wring out and apply to the area.
Aromatic Foot Soak : In a basin large enough for both feet, fill half full with cold water (50 – 70 degrees F). In a bowl, mix 2 Tablespoons non-iodized salt, 6 drops Lavender and 3 drops Peppermint essential oils. Add to the cold water and stir with your hands. Sit comfortably and relax while you soak your feet for 15 to 20 minutes. Soft music and deep breathing during this time can help as well. Note : other oils listed above may also be used.
Botanicals : Herbs can be used in capsule or tincture form. Antispasmodic and muscle relaxing botanicals include hops, kava kava, lobelia, rosemary, valerian root, wood betony. Analgesic herbs are kava kava, St. John's Wort, white willow bark, wintergreen. Calming herbs include catnip, chamomile, hops, oatstraw, passionflower, skullcap, valerian root. Other commonly used botanicals for headache are black cohosh, feverfew and Ginkgo biloba. Follow the manufacturer's directions for these herbal products.
Stretching Exercises : Tension in the neck and shoulders often contribute to headaches. Stretch the neck forward and back, and side to side, holding in the stretched position for a minute each time. Shoulders will tend to get pulled up with tension. Pull the shoulders down and hold for 2 – 3 minutes. When I am sitting, I like to grab the seat of the chair to help hold my shoulders in that position.
Deep Breathing : Taking time out to take several slow, deep breaths every 2 – 3 hours during the day can help you stay relaxed and reduce the frequency or intensity of tension headaches.
Massage and Reflexology : Massage of the hands and/or feet with or without essential oils can help relieve or prevent headaches. Pressure on reflexology points can also be extremely helpful. There are four target areas on hands and feet – right foot and hand affect the left side of the head and left foot and hand affect the right side. These points may be very tender if your are experiencing a headache. 1) Temporal points are on the side of the large toe between the large toe and second toe. With your thumb, apply pressure to this area starting at the tip of the toe and work toward the base. Do this several times, over 1 – 2 minutes. 2) “Four Gates” points are on the top of the feet about a thumb's width above the web between the large and second toes, where the bones intersect. (Caution : Do not apply pressure to the Four Gates points if you are pregnant.) Press on the depression between the bones for 1 – 2 minutes. On the hands, the point is about a thumb's width below the web between the thumbs and first fingers where these bones intersect. With the opposite thumb and first finger, squeeze the point for 1 – 2 minutes. 3) On the top of the feet, another point is about a thumb's width above the web between fourth and baby toes, where the bones intersect. Press on the point for 1 – 2 minutes. 4) For pain on the face, the points are on the top of the large toes. Do not massage the toe nail. With both thumbs, apply pressure to the top of the toe, side to side, working from below the nail to the base of the toe. Do this several times for 1 – 2 minutes.