Painkillers not best for headaches

Ironically and not before time NICE (the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence) has reported that one of the most common causes of headaches is overuse of medication.  They advocate (quite surprisingly) that acupuncture is the only proven method to treat tension headaches and migraine and that it should be prescribed by doctors.

Those who take pills such as aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen for at least ten days a month over three months are said to be at particular risk of ‘medication  over-use headaches’, as they’re called.

Rhiannon Griffiths, acupuncturist and British Acupuncture Council member says: ‘Acupuncture helps chronic headaches and migraine by treating both the painful and debilitating symptoms at the moment they occur, as well as the underlying root cause in the long term. The root cause may be a deficiency in the body, typically exacerbated by overwork, working long hours, burning the candle at both ends or a lack of proper rest and nourishing food.’

Acupuncture is a great way of dealing with headaches, but not the only one.  Osteopathy, chiropractic and Alexander Technique can be very helpful as the problem often emanates from tension in other parts of the body.

• Regular exercise helps to prevent headaches, particularly yoga, Pilates or T’ai chi which are relaxing and alleviate tension.

• Drink plenty of water (between 6 and 8 glasses a day) as dehydration is a major cause. • Avoid caffeine, chocolate or cheese if they trigger headaches in you.

• Skipping meals induces headaches, so always eat regularly and have healthy snacks in between meals.

• Drink herbal teas, particularly peppermint, when you feel a headache coming on.

• Try coconut water – natural replaces fluids in the body and is very refreshing.

Water, water everywhere

Nutrition consultant and independent consultant to the Natural Hydration Council, Dr Emma Derbyshire, said:  ‘We are at the greatest risk of dehydration when we are too hot or too dry, have limited access to water, or need more water than usual – such as in warm or dry environments. Make sure you always have access to water, even when out and about, and consider bottled water when you are on the move. If in doubt of advice, the Food Standards Agency provides a useful guide of 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day for the average person.’

Osteopathy and Migraines

Hector Wells an osteopath and member of the British Osteopathic Association runs a daily headache clinic in Banbury, Oxfordshire, ‘Headaches and migraines tend to start due to tension often in one of three areas of the body – tension in the pelvis, in the diaphragm or in the head and neck. Often the tension is greater on one side of the body and very often I’ve found that a migraine begins as a person starts trying to relax – a lot of headaches are associated with the start of relaxation.’

• Pelvic-led headaches can be caused by periods, following childbirth or an injury to the sacrum.

• Diaphragm-led  – food poisoning, abdominal surgery, tension/stress related – quite often accompanied with a tight shoulder more commonly the left – left or right shoulder tension is often symptomatic of  diaphragm tension.

• Head/neck led headaches – left or right imbalance, neck tension, postural problems or following an injury – whiplash or banging your head.

‘Some people never quite relax, and perhaps don’t even realise this. If someone suffers from headaches it’s because tension has built up in a particular area of the body causing an imbalance.’

Although massage can help relieve tension an osteopath actually seeks the cause and will align the body to balance the left and right sides, helping it return to its natural state. Osteopaths work in conjunction with existing healthcare and medication and many patients are able to move away from medication altogether when receiving osteopathic treatment.

Try Migrastick to stop a headache in its tracks – it contains essential oils of lavender and mint. You rub the stick on your head where it hurts and it helps to ease the pain. Click here to purchase. 

Hector Wells’ tips

• When suffering from a headache something as simple as a cold face flannel or using a water spray on the face can make a difference. Cold items on the face encourage the body’s parasympathetic system to release tension

• If you’re suffering from sinus headaches stand in the shower and let water run down your face. Pinch your nose at the bridge and push it from left to right, breathing at the same time, whilst the water runs down. Gradually change the direction and the pressure on bridge of the nose – this should help clear the sinuses

• When headaches are caused by diaphragmatic tension lower in the body, often associated with heart burn or indigestion it helps to put a heat pack on the front and back of the diaphragm and drink a warm drink at the same time to help relieve the tension and get your body to a relaxed state.

To find a registered practitioner in your area, call the British Acupuncture Council on 020 8735 0400 or visit

To find a BOA member near you visit

For more information see the Essential Guide to Hydration factsheet





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