try something different to banish that headache!
Xandra says: In the UK, as many as six million people suffer from migraines.1 As a chiropractor, I’ve been treating migraine headaches in my practice for over 10 years. Just making a few daily lifestyle changes can have a huge difference in the frequency and intensity of migraines. It can feel as if the pressures of daily living gradually build up, and before you know it, you are in pain and your head is throbbing. By working on ways to help to slow that pressure down, it can help to reduce the number and frequency of any migraines you get.
Technology also plays a part in the causes of migraines. These days, the joints and muscles of our neck and upper back are put under constant, unnatural pressure when we are always looking down to check our phone or tablet.
From my experience of seeing thousands of patients who suffer from migraines, these are the best methods I have found to help treat them:
stop leaning towards your computer screen or tablet
Our spines are meant to have three natural curves. Sitting in a typical desk set up for hours each day, or sitting slumped on the sofa with a tablet on our lap can disrupt those natural curves. Increased load in the wrong places can then increase the wear and tear in our lower back.
If your workstation setup and how you sit at your computer is incorrect, you will naturally find yourself leaning forwards, placing weight on your arms and learning on your desk. From this position, to be able to see your screen, you then have to tilt your chin upwards, which puts pressure on the top joints of your neck. Next time you are sitting at your desk, see if you can feel any pressure at the back of your head. If you can, this may be the cause. (If you’re in an office, ask a colleague to take a photo of you working at your desk so you can see how you are positioned).
How do you fix this? Well, first, head to our 3 minute Posture Challenge for the full ‘how to.’ But the key components are:
- Angle your seat back into a more reclined position
- Rest your feet on an angled step
- Rest your arms on your desk
- Let your chair do the work
Sitting this way helps to balance body weight more evenly across your body and lets your chair and desk better support your weight.
try a little self-massage and myofascial release
While it isn’t always convenient to drop everything to squeeze in a quick yoga or stretching session, almost everyone can manage a few minutes spent relieving the tension in their backs, to help stop problems before they become any bigger.
One issue that many people find trigger a migraine is tension in their upper backs. It’s easy to loosen them up with a ball. While you can buy a fancy spiky massage ball, really, any firm ball will do. Ideally you want something about the size of a tennis ball, but something a little larger or smaller can also do the trick.
Place the ball behind your shoulder, near your neck and lean back onto it against a wall. As you put more of your bodyweight against it, it may feel uncomfortable, but this should start to ease after a few seconds. Work the ball into different spots in your upper back (never use one directly on your spine). You can also do this lying on the ground, if it’s more comfortable. It’s a great way to relax at the end of the day and can help to reset your body, making you primed for a more relaxed sleep.
Using a spiky ball for massage helps to relieve tension, releases lactic acid from your muscles (which can cause aches and cramping) and, if you are suffering from a migraine at the time, studies show2 that it can help to relieve that pain.
Although research on the use of ice for pain relief is limited from a clinical perspective, it has some of the best outcomes on pain and migraine frequency out of all the advice I give. It’s also very safe, cheap and easy to do.
Ice is a natural anti-inflammatory, which means it reduces swelling. While there are numerous contributing factors to the cause of a migraine, a big part of them is due to swelling either around the joints or discs of the neck. Putting an ice pack on your neck can naturally help to reduce that swelling and give relief. While many people think applying heat is a good idea, it is a natural inflammatory, and most patients will respond better to ice.
Next time you feel a migraine coming on, try putting an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas) at the top of your neck. Make sure there is a layer of clothing between you and the ice pack, or wrap your pack in a towel. Try and keep the ice pack there for 15-20 minutes. This can dramatically help cut the frequency and intensity of your migraines.
work on your lower back
Imagine your body is like a building. If there is weakness in your foundations, the top will inevitably collapse or fall. The strength in our spines is built from the bottom up, with our core muscles acting as our foundations.
Working the area around your pelvis, lower back and lower abdominals helps to keep the whole spine in good posture and can help to relieve pain.
A basic, but clinically effective core strength exercise for the whole spine takes less than a minute a day! The bird dog exercise in our 3 minute Posture Challenge is easy to do, works the whole spine and can also work on your balance. I always recommend that my patients do this exercise in the centre of their bed, rather than on a hard surface, as it makes the exercise unstable, which engages your core muscles more intensely.
The joints in your body are like parts in a machine. When they move, they oil and lubricate themselves. If they are not regularly moved, as a result of a sedentary lifestyle, they get stiff, and can start to wear out and rust. To remedy this, simply try doing 20 seconds of exercise to target the three main areas of your spine, throughout the day, to relieve any tension in these areas.
Two exercises for this are simply turning your neck from side to side with a very slight look down. This stretches out the back of the neck. Repeat this slowly two to three times. Then, roll big circles with your shoulders back and forth; again two to three times. Just repeating these simple movements every hour can help to make you much more flexible and keep those joints moving and mobile.
Movement is the key to keeping your joints healthier and more flexible. If you have a desk job, using a timer to remind you to move every hour can help to ensure you don’t forget to shift your position and move your joints. Even using that alarm to get up to get yourself a glass of water or a herbal tea can help to keep you flexible.
If you work in an office, take a moment to go and talk to colleagues directly, rather than sending them an email. Just a few small shifts like this to our daily routine can help anyone to be more active, more flexible and have less pain, not only from migraines, but from joint and muscle aches too.