Ouch, another headache
Updated: Mar 2
I'm often wondering why some people are so prone to headaches, whilst others never seem to experience them at all? This is something I have been observing over the past few years, both in practice and personally. Upon review of my clinical cases and literature available, I have noticed that women tend to be far more prone to headaches than men (1).
A little bit of context
Whilst there are many types of headaches, they fall into 3 main categories:
1. Primary headaches: These are organic and not the result of another disease, e.g., migraines, tension headaches, cluster headaches.
2. Secondary headaches: Occur as a side effect of medication or illness, e.g., rebound headaches from painkillers, head trauma, sinusitis.
3. Cranial neuralgias: Severe shooting pain, facial pain and other headaches, e.g., occipital neuralgia. I will be focusing on primary headaches.
So why are headaches so common and how can we manage them? Could they be due to our fluctuating hormones? Absolutely... well they're certainly one factor. Sorry guys, I know you have hormones too and this isn't an article preaching about how women have it harder - but there is a strong link with headaches and pubertal development in women (1). I honestly believe that due to the linear phase of male hormones, there is a more consistent tissue environment - resulting in less inflammation, tension and therefore lower male prevalence of headaches. Compared to the ever spiking and plummeting female hormonal cycles.
So, what can you do?
1. Neck Stretches. Look up. Just look around, everyone you look at, on the train or walking in the street are either looking down at their phones or slouched in a chair watching television. That head down posture is straining and weakening the muscles at the back of the neck and shortening the front muscles. This can cause an imbalance and compression through the joints in the neck and upper back, creating tension across the fascia around the head, neck and shoulders.
2. Stress Management. Stress releases a hormone called cortisol. Don't get me wrong, cortisol is a real champion when it is flowing around the body as intended. But our busy, hectic daily lives are placing us all in a chronic state of stress, which has been shown to create inflammation and hinder the gut/brain cycle (2). One way to manage stress is to find 5-10 minutes of your day where you can switch off from either social media, the kids or relentless work emails. Use the time to carry out some breathing techniques or mindfulness. You can do this on the train, in the car or in bed. Not only will this help regulate your cortisol levels, it will also help ease the general muscle tension throughout your body. A win win! #breathe #stressrelief.
3. Maca powder. Evidence has shown this rich mineral super-food to balance both male and female hormonal levels - having positive effects on blood pressure, mood, fertility, libido, reducing menopausal symptoms, stress and more (3, 4). You can find it in most supermarkets. Sprinkle a teaspoon of it on your porridge or add it to a smoothie. If you're taking medication, please check that maca powder doesn't interact with it.
4. Osteopathic treatment. Hands on osteopathy is an effective treatment method for the management and prevention of headaches (5, 6). Book in with your local osteopath for a consultation and see how they can help and what advice they can provide. Trust me, we have a lot to give. #osteopathyworks #osteopathy #findinghealth #preventativemedicine #purusactivehealth #osteoandrea
The list of management tools could go on, but these are a good starting point.
1. Pakalnis A, Gladstein J. Headaches and Hormones. Seminars in Pediatric Neurology. 2010;17(2):100-104.
2. Faedda N, Natalucci G, Baglioni V, Giannotti F, Cerutti R, Guidetti V. Behavioral therapies in headache: focus on mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy in children and adolescents. Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. 2019;19(12):1219-1228.
3. Takewaka T, Hara K. Clinical Effect of Oral Administration of Maca (Lepidium meyenii) Extract on Japanese Peri-Menopausal Women Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. International Journal of Biomedical Science. 2019;.
4. Kasprzak D, Jodlowska-Jedrych B, Borowska K, Wojtowicz A. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) – multidirectional health effects – review. Current Issues in Pharmacy and Medical Sciences. 2018;31(3):107-112.
5. Cerritelli F, Lacorte E, Ruffini N, Vanacore N. Osteopathy for primary headache patients: a systematic review. Journal of pain research. 2017;10:601.
6. Unit FP, Santa SF, Rome IM, Tramontano M. Effects of osteopathic manipulative therapy on pain and mood disorders in patients with high-frequency migraine. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2017;117(6):365-9.