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HOLISTIC HEALTH - October 2018

Chronic Headache Relief

by Nancy Russell, M.D


Are you a headache sufferer and endure many days of pain a month? Chronic headaches are one of the most common causes of pain for people in our society. 

Headaches can be from many causes and must be carefully evaluated. 

 A serious headache that sends you to the emergency room is when you have the worst headache of your life that comes on suddenly; this may be a hemorrhage or bleeding in your brain which is life threatening. If the headache is associated with numbness or weakness of an extremity, vision loss, or confusion, seek medical attention right away. 

Chronic headaches vary in location, severity, type of pain and are divided into primary and secondary. Primary headaches include primary tension headaches, muscle contraction headaches, migraine headaches— with or without aura, cluster headaches, cough headaches, stabbing headaches, headache from exertion, stabbing headache, hynic headache (awakens a person from sleep), unilateral (one sided) headaches, daily-persistent headache, headache from exertion, trigeminal neuralgia, etc. Secondary headaches can be due to trauma, dehydration, infection, structural problems with the bones of the face, teeth, jaw, eyes, ears, nose, sinuses, brain tumor, or other structures or substance abuse or withdrawal. 

The two most common types of headaches are migraine headaches and tension headaches. Forty-five million Americans have one or the other on a regular basis. Both can be very treatable and preventable with nutrition and natural remedies. 

Migraine headaches are caused by inflammation or irritation of structures that surround the brain or affect its function. While the brain itself has no pain nerve fibers, everything else above the shoulders, from the neck, skull, and face, can cause a person to have head pain. Migraines may be associated with warning signs, also called an aura, which is described as visual changes such as flashing lights or blurry vision and occasionally cause nausea, sweating, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and sound. They can last for several hours to several days and sleeping can be helpful in resolving the headache. 

To find underlying triggers and causes for migraine headaches can be helpful. Common triggers are cheeses, alcohol (especially wine), strong smells, MSG, and stress headaches. Potential underlying causes include unresolved emotional conflicts, relationship issues, nutritional deficiencies, food allergies and sensitivities, hormonal imbalance, etc. The most common nutritional deficiencies include magnesium, riboflavin (vitamin B2), and vitamin B-6. Other nutrients to add that may be beneficial for migraine headaches are fish oil and the herbs feverfew and butterbur. Food allergies and food sensitivities can be assessed with blood tests or an elimination diet and hormonal testing with blood or saliva. Chiropractic care and acupuncture can also be helpful, as well as correcting TMD (temporal mandibular dysfunction). 

Tension headaches account for 75 percent of all headaches. They tend to start and fade away gradually, with moderate pain on both sides of the head and across the forehead. Some people describe it as a band of pain around the whole head. The immediate cause is tension in the muscles of the neck, specifically the sternocleidomastoid muscles which turn your head from side to side. Often time a tender knot or trigger point can be found in the middle of that neck muscle. This point refers pain and tenderness to the sides of your forehead in the temple area and across it. Some people get tension headaches at the base of the skull, on the top of the head, and/or behind the eyes. 

Treatment of tension headaches include stretching exercises, topical therapies, nutritional support, and hands-on body work. Exercises can be learned from a physical therapist or chiropractic doctor and using Tai Chi exercises can strengthen and stretch the muscles to improve blood flow. Topical therapies include: hot compresses or cold, menthol-containing creams, essential oils such as lavender and peppermint, hemp extract creams, etc. Some headaches respond better to warmth and some to cold so alternating the treatment can help you decide which is best for you. Supplements that can be helpful are magnesium, willow bark, boswelia, and cherry extract. Better sleep can help prevent tension headaches using lavender, passion flower, gaba support and magnesium. 


Other therapies that can be helpful for tension headaches include massage therapy, myofascial release, trigger point therapy, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and dry needling. Seek assistance in your journey to minimize your headaches, get to the root of the problem and individualize a treatment plan with your integrative, functional medicine physician or provider. 

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Nancy Russell, M.D. has been a holistic Internal Medicine physician in the Kansas City northland for over 30 years at 5140 N. Antioch Road in Kansas City, MO.


Her phone number is 816-453-5545 and website is where you can get more information. Dr. Russell is board certified in holistic medicine and is a member of the American Holistic Medical Association and a prior board member.

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