“You’re giving me a headache.” Wow, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that in my life. It’s usually because I’m a bit of a handful and I tend to annoy, not because the person actually has a headache. But things have changed. Headaches appear to be getting more and more common. I didn’t remember anyone in my world getting them until I went to college. And then, the instance of headaches affecting people I’d meet went off the charts. And they had migraine headaches, which is apparently like the nuclear holocaust of headaches.
Since then, it seems like at least a quarter of the people I run into, suffer with extreme headaches, and have had them for years. In fact, I heard the other day it’s the most (or certainly one of them) searched pains on the internet. What’s going on? Why so many people with headaches? The symptoms for many are described the same way, and even some of the self remedies that people use are pretty uniform. And of course, Ouch! has a few thoughts on the subject. We are here to help if you are one of the ones who suffer from these dreadful brain pains.
First of all, it’s worth noting a few observations. Not all headaches are caused by the same thing. Not all headaches are helped by the same thing. And I have seen first hand how some of the new medications out there like, Aimovig, or one of these other monthly shots that people take, are truly game changers for headache sufferers. But having worked with thousands of clients who complain of headaches, I thought it might be helpful to identify some of the issues that go with headaches and let you, the reader, decide whether it’s helpful or not.
Common problems that people with headaches share…and most are connected to the ability of the body to get and use oxygen. If we are able to look what causes some headaches, and not just the pain of them, we can get ahead of the problem. And if you find something that works, it's really important to understand "why?" it's working. So here are a few common characteristics of headaches caused by a decrease in oxygen.
Holding your breath - If you get headaches, chances are pretty good that you hold your breath more often than your realize. You do it when you are not aware you are doing it, you do it when you are calm, and when you're not. Odds are you probably just breath slower and less deeply on a regular basis. All by itself, this is a common with headaches suffers and causes the body to run in a more oxygen deprived state than most. I have noticed that headache peeps are terrible when it comes to diaphragmatic breathing. Some people call it breathing with their stomach or “non chest breathing”, but basically it means deep breathing using your diaphragm. Babies are great diaphragmatic breathers (you see their little tummy go up and down…not their chests), and athletes are typically great breathers due to their need for more oxygen as they train or compete. Being a lousy breather basically means that your body’s ability to get oxygenated is compromised. And being compromised is the first step toward being “hypoxic". Try paying attention to how you breathe when exerting yourself. Are you holding your breath?
Bright lights hurt - When a headache hits, it seems like the sufferer will find a quiet, dark place to try and lessen the pain. When you think about the oxygen demand in the body, the brain needs a lot of it. And the optic nerve needs more than most in the head. When the optic nerve is stimulated, it needs even more. Going dark helps slow the need for O2 upstairs. When the tissues are starved of oxygen, even a little, the body responds by trying to compensate and deliver more blood to an area. This can cause increased increased pressure or even swelling in the tissues, all in an effort to get more oxygen delivered by the bloodstream. This can feel an awful lot like “pressure behind the eyes” or “pressure in the head” etc…
Caffeine helps - Many feel better after drinking something with caffeine in it, or take pain medications that also have caffeine (like… Excedrin Migraine). Caffeine causes the tissues to produce nitric oxide and actually impacts our circulation by becoming a vasodilator, which is a fancy way of saying it helps open up the blood vessels to move more blood around. There are some instances when caffeine causes a contraction of blood vessels in certain tissues, but that effect seems to be very short lived and the dilation effect happens there too. So it feels better, in the short term, to drink a caffeinated drink. More blood, more O2.
Mild exercise helps - I have many clients that tell me they feel better after a run. This seems like the last thing I’d want to do if I had a headache, but some folks swear by it. And knowing what we know already about the oxygen needs we have for good brain health (ie…no headaches), it makes sense that if we increase our oxygenated blood flow, through mild exercise, we will have happy brains. And happy brains equal no headaches.
People ask how Ouch! can help with headaches. Well, it’s pretty simple. Ouch! helps you get more balanced. A routine from Ouch! helps you move better and breathe better. It helps your circulation, helps you stay regular with mild exercise. Heck, if you drink an espresso before your routine, you might even have the perfect headache preventer.
In any case, headaches are awful, and I totally sympathize with anyone who is unfortunate enough to get them regularly. They can be miserable. Just know that help of all kinds is out there. And it can make a significant difference.