Stress and Tension Headaches

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With stress such a common issue in life today, it’s no wonder that more and more people are complaining of tension headaches. In fact, what you may know of as ‘tension headaches’ are frequently being referred to now as ‘stress headaches’. But what causes these headaches, and how can they be treated naturally?

Tension headaches are indeed the most common type of headaches, and may appear only once or twice a month, daily, or anywhere in between. The majority of people experience these headaches as mild and short-lived, but they may last for several days. The pain tends to be throbbing, affecting the front, top, and sides of your head, as well as the back of your neck and possibly the muscles in between your shoulder blades as well. Irritability, trouble sleeping, and mild sensitivity to light are also common. Tension headaches often appear during the day, and do not affect your vision, balance, or strength, and so usually you are still able to perform normal daily activities.

Stress appears to be the leading cause of tension headaches, but scientists have yet to specifically determine why. Most likely, it’s because when you’re stressed, the muscles around your neck, head and eyes get tighter. In addition, it’s believed that the following may play a role in the formation of tension headaches:

Conventional medical treatment usually involves over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and various combinations of drugs that may also include caffeine and/or codeine. Unfortunately, over-use of these medications can sometimes trigger tension headaches, and so use of them is suggested only with monitoring by your doctor.

Acupuncture is excellent for treating tension headaches, as it helps your body in a variety of ways. For example, acupuncture has been shown to help decrease pain levels, as well as lowering the tension in your muscles. Plus, your hormone levels can be balanced (increased or decreased where needed) and stress levels can be greatly diminished through acupuncture treatment.

Massage therapy can help reduce the tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Your trapezius muscles, for example, are often quite tight when you experience tension headaches regularly. Furthermore, massage therapy can help stimulate endorphins, thus assisting in making you feel better.

There are indeed many other natural therapies that might help your tension headaches. Yoga, for example, can help you to improve your posture and tone your muscles. Psychotherapy can help you learn to handle stress better, and perhaps reduce the number of tension headaches that you experience.

On your own, try closing your eyes and gently rubbing your temples for a few minutes. This may relieve some of the pressure. Also, try taking a warm bath with Epsom salts, and make sure that you are drinking plenty of water on a regular basis. Finally, try adding some fish oil supplements to your diet, as this may help reduce some of the inflammation in your muscles.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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