The first step in preventing or treating a headache is to identify the cause. The most common headache tend to fall into four major categories: cluster headache, tension headache, migraine and chronic daily headache.
Sometimes known as ‘the demon of headaches’, cluster headache strikes with little warning, often waking up the sufferer in the middle of the night. The pain usually affects just one side of the face, centering on the eye. It typically lasts for between 15 minutes and three hours, and may return up to ten times a day for six to ten weeks (the cluster period) before disappearing for months or years.
The Cause Of Cluster Headache
No one is sure of the cause, but it is thought that some sort of irritation to the facial nerves may be to blame. Cluster headaches are more common in men, especially those who smoke or drink.
Tension headache is the most common type of headache, and is characterized by a dull, steady pain on both sides of the head. The sufferer often feels as if a tight band, or heavy weight were pressing down on them.
The Cause Of Tension Headache
This headache is usually a direct result of stress, which causes the muscles of the neck and scalp to knot up. It can also be brought on by bad posture, sitting in a draught, bright lights, too much noise, or sitting or working in an awkward position.
Migraine can be divided into two main categories. Classic migraines are usually preceded by an ‘aura’, a visual disturbance such as flashing lights, zig zag patterns and general blurring. With common migraine, which affects about 65% of sufferers, there is little or no warning. The pain develops slowly into a throbbing ache, often aggravated by movement or noise. Nausea and vomiting are common with both types.
The Cause Of Migraine
Migraine are believed to be the result of changes in the neurotransmitters and blood vessels in the brain. What cause these changes is unknown. Triggers include stress, foods such as cheese, alcohol and chocolate, lack of food or irregular meals, fatigue and hormonal factors such as periods. Menstrual migraines which affects about 10% of female migraine sufferers, are thought to relate to the drop is estrogen at this time of the month.
Chronic Daily Headache
To be termed a chronic headache, the pain has to occur on more than 15 days every month.
The Cause Of Chronic Daily Headache
Neck or head injury such as whiplash or overuse of painkillers. With sufferers who take painkillers on a daily basis, a vicious circle can develop. As the painkillers wear off, there is a rebound headache, so the sufferer takes more painkillers and the painkillers start to fuel the headache.
Exercise To Keep Headaches At Bay
These simple to follow exercises can help strengthen the neck area, and relieve tension, one of the most common causes of headaches.
The Face Clock
- Lie on your back, bend on your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Place a rolled up towel under your neck for support.
- Now imagine you are facing a clock. Slowly trace the outline of its shape with the tip of your nose, clockwise then anticlockwise. Repeat 3 times in each direction.
- Now turn your head slowly from side to side, going just as far as is comfortable, and keeping your chin level.
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times to each side.
- Sit in a straight backed chair. Slightly lower your chin and tilt your head to the left, with your chin down and towards the right.
- With your left hand, gently pull your head to the left, but not to the point of pain. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times on each side.
- Lift your arms until they are parallel with the floor. Bend your elbows, keeping them at shoulder height, so your forearms are vertical.
- Keeping your back straight, push your arms back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Flexing The Neck
- Put your left arm behind you and rest your forearm against your lower back for support.
- Gently let your chin drop towards your chest until you feel a slightly stretch in the back of the neck. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times. To increase the stretch, place the other hand over the back of the head.
For best results, hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. Don’t force any movements or overstretch. Stop immediately if you feel any pain or discomfort.
Quick Tips To Avoid Headaches
- Make sure you get enough sleep and eat regular meals
- Cut down on coffee and alcohol
- Get plenty of exercise and fresh air. Regular walking, jogging or swimming for instance, will help to ward off neck and shoulder tension
- Take a look at your stress levels and practise some form of relaxation technique regularly
- Pay attension to your posture