So if you (like me) suffer from severe headaches and/or migraines you’ll know just how debilitating they can be. It's like they just take over your mind and stop you from functioning. I find I can't push through them or block them out like I can with most of my other pains. I’ve had headaches for most of my life, but low-grade. It wasn’t until 2014 that I regularly experienced severe headaches frequently and started to have migraines as well.
My body doesn’t react very well to medications; usually if there are any side effects possible I will get them. So I currently only take a preventative migraine medication every day, and don’t have anything to take when the migraines come on (I have a neurologist appointment in feb so hopefully that will change then!). So I’ve done my fair share of research, and trial & error of non-medicinal ways to help migraines/headaches. So I thought I would share because I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggles with these (actually I’m 100% sure I’m not!).
I'm not 100% sure what causes my migraines/headaches, and so some of these options that work for me won't work for you, and vice versa depending on the cause of them. So I've included a list of everything that I have tried whether it worked or not, as well as things that have been suggested to me and I am yet to try.
So lets start with the obvious (just to cover all bases):
1. Ice on head: I use this especially when I feel like I’m over-heating. Same logic I guess when people use a wet flannel over their forehead. Nothing new here.
2. Dark room: avoiding extra stimulation that would overload your head further - eg. lights, sound etc. That’s why often bright light and loud noises can often make the headches/migraines worse; your body is already trying to process the pain of the migraine (plus any other pains you may have at that point) that any more stimuli on top of that over-loades the system and causes an increase in pain.
3. Sleep it off: for me, I use this as a ‘wait it out’ type thing. Sleep, avoid other aggravating triggers/stimuli and wait for it to go away. I do this when none of the other things have worked.
Other not-so-obvious things I've tried:
4. Ice on back of neck: I do this for 20 minutes at the end of each day (even when I don't have a headache/migraine as a possible preventative). I find that doing this when I do have a migraine helps a little, and if not it just distracts me from the headache/migraine and also cool me down a bit (as over-heating is one of my headache/migraine triggers). My attitude is “well if I’m going to lie down, I may as well put an ice pack on as well”. In other words, try it, if you’re not sure if it helps then there’s no harm in using it anyway.
5. Get air circulating– open a window or put fan on. A.K.A.avoid stuffy rooms (I find this causes my symptoms to get worse).
6. Listen to mindfulness/hypnosis tracks:
I know I know - being mindful and listening to your body when you're in pain is definitely not what you initially want to do. Trust me I understand. But I've learnt that it does help, especially when done over a period of time. Just like physical exericse, mindfulness is a mental exercise that helps to train pathways in the nervous system that are responsible for down-regulating pain. My favourite tracks are from hypnosisdownloads.com - the chronic pain one I have actually been able to decrease my headache consciously and with training I could decrease it for longer and longer before it went back up in intensity! Otherwise there are free ones you can get by searching in google or purchasing from itunes. You can also get some from the app store; I use 'Migraine Relief' and 'Pain Relief' (Surf City Apps Guided Meditation)
7. Essential oils
Either on your skin (rub into temples, forehead or back of neck) or in an evaporator/insence/candle. I find lavendar and peppermind the most soothing.
8. TENS machine
I found this helped a little but only when I had the machine on. Once it turned off my headache/migraine went back to how it was originally. The TENS machine works by providing more stimuli to an area (the area which is feeling pain) as the brain can only process a certain amount of stimuli at once, so pain and sensation compete in order to be felt. Putting the TENS on means that sensation gets more attention, and pain gets less. Worth a try if you have one available, otherwise they are expensive to buy and might not be worth your money.
9. Natural suppliments
Best to chat to a pharmacist / natropath on this to figure out what is best for you. But for example, I take ‘migraine care’ and magnesium powder which are both over the counter suppliments.
10. Cooling yourself down
Whether it be lying in front of a fan, dunking in the pool or taking a cold shower I find that this often helps a bit.
Things I haven't tried
11. Hands in cold water
This was reccommended to me be a friend who also suffers from migraines. She said that she does this when she feels 'like her head is going to explode' and it takes some of the edge off. Doesn't have a huge effect I don't think, but worth a try.
12. Head/scalp massage
You could do this using your hands or one of those head/scalp massagers, or get someone else to do it. Again I haven't really tried this, it was reccommended to me by a friend.
I hope you got some more ideas from this, I know how upsetting it is to feel like you're out of options. I hope at least one of these will help!
*Disclaimer: this post is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical or health practitioner. If you are experiencing migraines/headaches frequently please see an appropriate physician.