5 Ways to Ease Chronic Pain Caused by Headaches

Mild headaches are treated with rest, food or medication. However, long-term headaches can cause chronic pain and may require selective treatments.

Woman holding her face in her hands while sitting up in bed

Over-the-counter medication, coffee, or a short rest usually relieve a headache. However, some types of headaches may require prompt medical care. Examples of these are headaches that progressively worsen or cause chronic pain, visual impairment, slurred speech, or seizures.

Does any of the above sound familiar? Read on to discover how to get rid of the pain and discomfort, once and for all.

Woman in a dressing gown yawning with eyes closed while covering her mouth her right hand and holding a mug in her left
Fatigue is regarded as a common cause of migraine headaches.

What are the Root Causes of a Headache? 

Chronic pain including long-term headaches, can indicate various health disorders. To be diagnosed, a person must experience the latter condition for a minimum of 15 out of 30 days. Cluster, migraine, tension, and hemicrania continua headaches can occur daily or almost daily.

Another condition that can provoke the onset of frequent headaches is idiopathic intracranial hypotension. It involves fluid pressure in the skull being lower than average.

Frequent headaches can also happen if you eat certain foods or have emotional stress, depression, poor posture, and a family history of headaches.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), practitioners classify the reasons behind headaches into two categories – external pathogens and internal imbalances.

“Being in specific environments subjects a person to Cold, Wind, Heat, or Dampness. Prolonged and direct exposure of the face or neck area to air-conditioning constricts blood vessels in the head. It’ll halt blood flow within that part of the body and lead to migraine attacks,” explains Eu Yan Sang Physician Peh Wei Jie.

He adds, “Fatigue and extreme stress will malnourish blood or qi (vital life force), or block their circulation.”

Top view of a woman sleeping on her right side 
Creating a comfortable sleep environment can help you sleep better, reducing the occurrence of tension headaches.

How to Do Away with Chronic Pain and Other Headache Symptoms 

Healthcare providers use multiple strategies to treat chronic pain. A typical treatment plan will rely on:  

  • A person’s age and overall health 
  • The type of pain experienced 
  • The reasons behind the pain 

Lifestyle modifications  

Making a few changes to your daily routine can help manage headaches better. These include: 

  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time daily 
  • Exercising regularly for a minimum of 30 minutes daily 
  • Creating a dark, quiet, and relaxing environment 

Consumption of nutritionally-balanced foods

Fruits like cantaloupes, bananas, and watermelons are a healthy source of magnesium, potassium, complex carbohydrates, and B vitamins. These nutrients work together to reduce the severity of migraines. Pumpkin, sunflower, and chia seeds are anti-inflammatory. Leafy green vegetables, too, contain B vitamins and antioxidants that limit migraine frequency.

Avoid processed foods like lunch meats and sausages. These contain high levels of nitrate, which people with migraines are sensitive to. Also, steer clear of foods that contain yeast and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Examples of these are processed bread, bagels and condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise, barbeque sauce), respectively.

Medication use 

The best way to treat migraine headaches is to prevent them in the first place. In some cases, the attacks may be frequent, severe, or accompanied by neurological symptoms. It’s advisable to treat them with dietary and lifestyle modifications, health supplements and prescription medication.

The single or combined use of triptans, narcotics, steroids, anti-nausea medications, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work well for individual migraines. A NSAID called indomethacin, meanwhile, is the only medication that calms inflammation and reduces hemicrania continua pain.

Oxygen therapy 

A two-step approach helps fend off and avoid a potential cluster headache onset. First, oxygen therapy can stop or suppress an attack. Sumatriptan – a medication that’s administered orally, nasally, or through injection – can also be used to the same effect. However, it may cause negative long-term consequences. These include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, a burning sensation in the nose or throat, and physical changes to your face, arms, legs or chest.

Next, a clinical physician will prescribe a daily medication that helps reduce the risk of cluster headaches. The regimen will feature: 

  • Verapamil to relax blood vessels 
  • Prednisone to ease inflammation and swelling 
  • Lithium carbonate to balance brain chemicals 

Acupuncture  

Before administering acupuncture treatment, a licensed practitioner will determine the location of a headache. For instance, if it involves the temples, it’ll relate to the Liver and Gallbladder meridians and may be due to excess Liver yang (active energy) or Heat or Qi (vital life force) Stagnation.

Points liketai chong (LR3, 太冲), ben shen (GB13, 本神), and jia xi (GB43, 侠溪) are suitable for clearing Qi Stagnation and decreasing Liver yang and Heat. Eight to ten sessions, once or twice a week, will improve a person’s condition.

Tuina  

If you’re uncomfortable with using acupuncture needles, considertuina instead. It centres on applying pressure with a finger or the palm and lifting and kneading action that targets specific areas of the body. 

Gentle pressure alleviates headache symptoms, while a deeper pressure clears meridian Stagnation and relaxes spasms by regulating muscle and tendon tension. TCM believes that massaging points around the head and neck will dilate surface capillaries and increase body temperature. Consequently, this will resolve Blood Stasis and Qi Stagnation.

If a person with chronic headaches seeks treatment, tuina will be applied when in a seated position. Various techniques such astui (pushing), na (grasping), rou (kneading), and saosan (sweeping) can be used on acupressure points like: 

  • Tai yang (EX-HN5, 太阳) 
  • Jiao sun (SJ20, 角孙)  
  • Cuan zhu (BL2, 攒竹) 

Fundamentally, healthcare providers must be given access to key details, such as the type and frequency of the chronic pain experienced. It’s also useful for them to learn about your headache triggers and their accompanying symptoms. Based on these, a TCM practitioner, specifically, will be able to formulate a treatment plan that tackles the syndrome behind your constitution safely.

References

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. 2020. Understanding what causes headaches and finding treatments to relieve the pain. [online] [Accessed 19 July 2022] 
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Chronic Daily Headache. [online] [Accessed 19 July 2022] 
  3. Cleveland Clinic. Headaches[online] [Accessed 19 July 2022] 
  4.  Spine and Pain Clinics of North America. 2022. What Foods and Drinks Help Headaches? [online] [Accessed 19 July 2022] 
  5. Cleveland Clinic. Chronic Pain. [online] [Accessed 19 July 2022] 
  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Tension Headaches. [online] [Accessed 19 July 2022] 
  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Migraine Headaches. [online] [Accessed 19 July 2022] 
  8. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Cluster Headaches. [online] [Accessed 19 July 2022] 
  9. National Health Service. Sumatriptan[online] [Accessed 19 July 2022] 

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