A tension headache is the most common type of headaches and occurs episodically or chronically. Tension headaches are a dull pain, tightness, or pressure around your forehead or the back of your head and neck.
Between 35-60% suffer from this type of headache occasionally and about 3-5% of the population suffer daily from these headaches.
Although there is no known pathophysiology, there are several underlying causes that contribute to headaches, including increased tension of the neck musculature and a consequent change in stimulus threshold of the nociceptive systems. Chronic tension headaches, therefore, need to be assessed for correct structural alignment and the workspace needs to be looked into to make sure the ergonomics and work position are not putting too much stress on you.
Another cause is an essential fatty acid deficiency, which is often due to a biliary deficiency, leading to incomplete emulsification of fatty acids. This is often accompanied by a mineral deficiency, especially calcium.
General preventative measures include stress reduction and stress management, appropriate exercise and regular movement, as well as preventing muscular tension.
The conventional therapy model for tension headaches is based on medications such as Amitriptyline and analgesics with the aim of quick symptom relief. This approach does not lead to satisfying results in most cases. On the contrary, it often leads to further problems such as analgesics-induced headaches.
Due to the failing success of conventional therapies, the majority of individuals suffering from tension headaches is seeking alternative, natural therapeutic tools.
The majority of individuals with tension headaches can associate the occurrence of a new “attack” with stress and an unfavourable lifestyle. Foundational lifestyle interventions such as exercise, stress reduction, and stress relief, are established even in the conventional migraine therapy due to the profound evidence. Further, one should ensure sufficient and restful sleep and reduce monotone physical burdens (i.e computer work).
The alternative medicine therapy is very effective at reducing the frequency of tension headaches, especially when Mind-Body-Medicine and naturopathic interventions are included.
The identification of food sensitivities is a major first step as trigger foods can be the main underlying reason in most cases. A functional medicine practitioner can help guide you through an elimination diet or even run a lab test to identify potential foods that your immune system is reacting to. Another way to identify and associate certain foods with the occurrence of headaches is to keep a food diary.
There are foods that contain certain substances that have been shown to trigger headaches. These substances include:
- Tyramine in alcohol, aged cheeses, and deli meats
- Phenylethylamine in chocolate
- Food additives like MSG, nitrates, aspartame, which are found in most process and packaged foods or in condiments like soy sauce
In general, the ideal diet is based on whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods with the exclusion of wheat/gluten and dairy. As mentioned above, the fatty acid ratio plays a key role as well. While omega-6 fatty acids such as arachidonic acid are precursors to prostaglandins and cause pain, omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory effects and help reduce pain.
Besides regular aerobic movement like walking or swimming, there are specific types of exercises that have shown to be effective. These are
- Hatha-Yoga, such as Iyengar Yoga. Iyengar Yoga has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama).
Mind-Body-Medicine and stress reduction are key elements in the treatment of tension headaches. Especially effective are:
- Objective stress reduction and identification of stressors and triggers
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
- Progressive muscle relaxation (Jacobson)
- Deep breathing exercises, Pranayama
There are certain herbs that have been shown to be very effective for tension headaches. These two herbs have been shown to be as effective as 1g Paracetamol (acetaminophen):
- Willow bark extract (for acute headaches)
- Peppermint essential oil (at the onset of a headache, applied topically to temporal lobe, forehead, and neck)
Hydro-and physical therapy
Individuals with headaches often show signs of dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system, such as cold feet and/or feeling too warm in the upper body. Cold stimulation and hot-cold showers can improve a dysregulated autonomic nervous system. For acute tension headaches, you can try a hot foot bath.
- Enemas: these are effective especially at the onset of headaches.
- Bloodletting: this can be very effective if you have elevated hematocrit or ferritin levels
- Cupping: this can be done in obvious areas of muscle tension or the specific headache areas.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can take better care of yourself through self-empowered health, join my FREE 30-day program where I share my best personal self-care tips by clicking here.
If you’re ready to take full control of your health and find your blindspots, learn more about my Vital You Essentials Program by clicking here: https://thevitalyouinstitute.com/essentials-program