As a European osteopath, I’m trained to use a holistic approach to uncover the true source of your pain. So when clients come in suffering from headaches or migraines, I have them walk me though a day in their life. I ask them about their diet, how they feel emotionally, how often they exercise, and how well they sleep—I ask anything and everything, I really dig deep! This allows me to connect the dots and get a feel for their day-to-day routine. Sometimes we think we’re doing everything right and following every ‘rule’ associated with living a healthy lifestyle—but we’re only human so it’s easy to overlook even the smallest habits that might be causing pain. The reality is that being your own pain investigator is vital to feeling your absolute best and decoding the signals your body is sending you. Only you know who upsets you and who lifts your spirits—or the foods that bloat you and the foods that move your bowels. If you take the time to be mindful and connect with your body, you can find many of the answers you’ve been searching for. That annoying throb in your head has the power to disturb your state of mindfulness, something we definitely don’t want! So, today I want to teach you how to be your own pain detective by identifying the true source of your headaches and learning how to change these habits for the better. Time to put pen to paper to begin the internal investigation behind that pesky headache and bring in this New Year pain-free!
1. Trigger Foods
A number of foods are known to provoke headaches, such as dairy products, chocolate, foods with MSG, caffeinated food or drinks, onions, citrus fruits, nuts and nut butters (including peanut—technically a legume), fermented or pickled foods, and cured meats. Also a factor is the amino acid tyramine, found in aged cheese, smoked fish, red wine, figs and some beans. Everyone is different–the only way to get to the bottom of what foods are triggering your headaches is to eliminate all possible trigger foods and then slowly introduce them one by one to see how your body reacts. Keep a food diary to log how each food affects your body. This exercise can help you learn much more than just your headache patterns.
2. Running Dry
Not drinking enough water is one if the most common causes of headaches. Some experts believe that headaches can be caused by the blood vessels in your head becoming narrow in an attempt to regulate your body’s fluid levels1. It’s so simple when it comes to choosing a beverage…H2O is the way to go! Add on to the food diary you created in #1 by logging each time you drink water—Harvard recommends drinking four to six glasses daily2. You might notice a connection between your headaches and hydration habits!
3. Being Inactive
Move your body as much as possible! I understand it can be difficult if you work in an office with loads of work to get through every day, but if you make it a point to get your blood flowing it can help prevent headaches and increase your productivity. Make a desk checklist or use your fitness tracker to keep tabs on how active you’ve been that day–even stretches help! Desk stretches will help prevent neck and shoulder pain that can cause a blockage of blood supply to your head and create a nagging headache.
4. Energy Suckers
You might be wondering what an energy sucker is but–trust me–chances are you know a few. Some people can actually give you headaches just by talking to you! Pay attention to how you feel after spending time with certain people or even just speaking to them on the phone. If you feel drained, down or have a headache, someone just sucked the energy out of you! I’m not saying to turn your back on loved ones in times of need. Unfortunate circumstances happen and sometimes it’s our duty to give back and lift others up. I’m simply saying to take notice: is there someone who always leaves you feeling drained or in pain?
5. Flood of Emotions
Our emotions have as much power over us as our physical ailments. If you’re stressed out on a day-to-day basis, it’s time to explore different forms of stress management. Experiment with meditation, breathing exercises, prayer, acupuncture, essential oils, or regular exercise—try one or try all! Overstimulation of emotions, including anger, depression and anxiety, can also be the root of your headaches. It’s natural to be upset from time to time, but if an excess of negative emotions is an ongoing problem, you’ve likely just uncovered the source of your headaches.
6. Jaw Clenching
Are you a grinder? If every time you go to sleep, your jaw is grinding away, it’s no wonder you’re having headaches each morning! Frequent clenching of the jaw can develop stiff neck muscles, triggering a headache. Temporomandibular joint (or TMJ) disorders contribute to headaches due to the overuse of the masseter muscle. Wearing a mouth guard to bed can help reduce headaches and save your teeth from all the wear and tear that comes along with grinding and clenching. Stress is a known aggravator of jaw disorders—head back to #5 on ways to reduce stress!
7. Hefty Handbags
When you leave your home each morning, does it look like you’re headed on a weeklong holiday? I realize how easy it is for your entire house to end up in your handbag somehow, but it’s not ideal for your musculoskeletal system. According to the American Chiropractic Association, a bag shouldn’t weigh more than 10 percent of your body weight. Too much pressure on the trapezius muscle, the one that goes up the back of the neck to the skull, can be a likely source of your headaches. Luckily for you, backpacks are now fashionable! Evening out the weight of your bag on both shoulders will help reduce the strain.
8. Moody Bowels
Don’t be shy…this is worth a discussion! Everyone can relate to having stubborn bowel movements–or shall I say, lack of bowel movement? Constipation can be caused by stress, and can be stressful itself, both of which again go back to #5 —and may be the reason you’re battling with headaches. Also, if you tend to skip meals due to the bloating or nausea you feel because of your constipation, your blood sugar levels could be low—which itself will trigger a headache.
Back in Greece, Granny would take two spoons of extra-virgin olive oil each morning. Why? She said it helped move her bowels! Granny was certainly on to something: A study of over 400 residents in a small town in Spain found that 97.7 percent of those who had the most regular bowel movements had a high intake of olive oil3. All I know is that I’ve followed her lead from the time I was a young girl and my bowels are very friendly to me!
3 López Cara MA, Tárraga López PJ, Cerdán Oliver M, Ocaña López JM, Celada Rodríguez A, Solera Albero J, Palomino Medina MA. Constipation in the population over 50 years of age in Albacete province. Rev Esp Enferm Dig. 2006 Jun;98(6):449-59.