The stresses, strains and over-indulgence of the festive period can all add up to one big headache. So, what to do? Phil Evans of the local Urban Body clinic looks at some simple steps you can take to prevent getting a splitting head
It’s not just too much alcohol that delivers seriously bad heads at this time of year. Recurring headaches can often result from tension in the shoulders, jaw or neck, something that many people aren’t aware of.
Stress is also a key trigger, causing tension in our neck and shoulders which in turn can lead to a headache. In fact, almost nine in 10 headaches are caused by those sets of muscles being tight. You might not even know the tension is there, or just dismiss it as a stiff neck or a part of getting older.
Your head weighs about 5kg, but did you know that for every inch your head moves forward it weighs an extra 5kg? So, if you slouch while reading, this is likely to load your muscles in the back of your head and neck to work four to five times harder than they are supposed to, to stop your head from falling forwards.
The muscles, joints and nerves in your head and neck can directly cause headaches, specifically cervicogenic headaches. For example, the joints of your upper neck may be stiff which can refer pain to the head and/or face, so try to avoid the forward head postures that increase tension.
You could have your neck, upper back and jaw assessed by a qualified healthcare professional to help determine if there are limitations in the joints, muscles and nerves of the regions influencing your headaches and/or migraine. You can treat headaches with acupuncture, manual therapy techniques to loosen up the muscles and special posture exercises to strengthen specific muscles and relieve tension at the back of the skull. An example is the chin tuck, where you lie on your back and tuck your chin down to stretch the muscles at the back of your neck.
Food and drink are also key factors when it comes to headaches, so be more mindful of what you’re putting into your body. Drinking more than 100mg of caffeine per day will increase the likelihood of developing a chronic headache. Other common triggers for migraines are aged cheeses, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Dehydration is also a common trigger for headaches, so try to drink eight glasses of water every day.
How you live can influence whether or how often you have headaches. Being aware of the lifestyle and environmental factors that trigger your headaches — and avoiding them — can help save you from a pounding head.
Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Getting too little sleep and oversleeping can trigger headaches, as can getting up and going to bed at inconsistent times. Go to bed and get up about the same time every day. Yes, even weekends.
Watch what you eat and drink — and when: Don’t skip or delay meals. And drink plenty of water. Also avoid foods that can trigger headaches. This is particularly true if you suffer migraine headaches. Common food and beverage triggers include caffeine, monosodium glutamate (MSG), aged cheese, sausage, red wine and other alcoholic beverages.
Control stress: Learn techniques to help you relax and reduce emotional stress, which may be caused by overwork, job loss, financial difficulties or family problems. Stress can cause muscles to tense up and trigger headaches. Stress relief techniques include deep breathing, visualisation, progressive relaxation and biofeedback. Stress may cause you to clench your jaw or grind your teeth, even while sleeping.
Exercise regularly: Exercising 30 minutes at least three days a week is good for your overall health, and can help prevent migraines and tension headaches. Low-impact aerobic exercise prevents tension as it strengthens your muscles and keeps them flexible. Also good for muscle flexibility and stress relief: stretching, tai chi and yoga.
Choose your sports wisely: Activities that involve running, jumping or sudden starts, stops and direction changes can jar your neck and head, leading to tight muscles and headache pain. You may need to take up low-impact sports.
Prevent eye strain: Reading in dim light, extended computer use without a break and a weak, outdated eyeglass prescription can strain your eyes and the muscles around them — and lead to a headache.
Practise good body mechanics. Learn proper lifting and carrying techniques to prevent back and neck strain. Set up your workspace to promote good posture and prevent back, shoulder and neck strain. Make sure your bed and pillows provide good support, again to prevent muscle strain.
Avoid odours and fumes: A variety of scents and fumes — from perfume, paint, gasoline and cleaning products, as well as tobacco smoke — can trigger headaches. Switch to unscented household products.