Rachel is a lifestyle writer who has been dealing with migraine and chronic daily headache for nearly two decades.
Have you ever had a migraine?
If you've experienced this type of severe headache, you know how painful and exhausting they can be. For some people, like me, this pain occurs all too often.
Many people turn to medication to treat migraine pain. Over-the-counter or prescription drugs sometimes feel like the only way to find relief from the pounding, stabbing pain of a relentless headache.
Migraine medication often comes with its own assortment of undesirable side effects, including nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, tightness in the chest, or numbness in the limbs. Some drugs, like those containing acetaminophen, can have ill effects on the stomach, liver, and kidneys.
Having lived with chronic headaches—including migraines—for over 18 years, I've had my fair share of negative experiences with medication. Naturally, I sought out alternatives to the havoc of trial-and-error dosing. Over the years, I've discovered three reliable, non-medication alternatives for migraine relief and management.
- Reiki and reflexology
- Vitamin supplements
- Trigger avoidance
My Migraine Story
According to Migraine.com, more than 38 million Americans suffer from migraines. Some studies estimate that 2-3 million of these people experience chronic migraine episodes.
Since age 12 (current age 30), I have lived with chronic daily headache. Each month, I experience an average of 15-20 headache days, with 4-8 of those headaches being migraines.
My migraines took control of my life for years. I missed countless days of school because my headaches were so brutal that I would vomit during class. I spent hours upon hours on the couch or in bed—ice pack on my head and a belly full of OTC or prescription drugs.
As I left my teens and entered my early twenties, my migraines became an unstoppable force. None of the medications were working; preventative or acute. On at least 2 occasions, I lost vision in one of my eyes during a migraine attack.
An additional challenge of living with this condition is the lack of understanding or acknowledgment from others. Chronic daily headache is not seen as a real medical condition by many people I've encountered. I have often been accused of "faking it," or using a headache as an excuse to get out of doing something.
When you live with headaches on a near-daily basis, you become a hermit of sorts. The last thing you want to do when your head is pounding is go out and be social. Actually, you don't want to do anything but sit still in a cool, dark room; embrace the silence and pray for relief.
Reiki and Reflexology
Reiki is a healing technique based on the idea that a specially trained therapist can channel energy into a patient by means of touch. The therapist's touch is intended to activate the natural healing processes of the patient's body and restore physical and emotional well-being.
This Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation is based on the belief that an unseen "life force energy" flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. I'll admit, I didn't put much stock in this practice and I thought it was a bunch of bananas—at first.
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I was introduced to the technique in college when a classmate and certified Reiki therapist offered to help me with a migraine. She put her hands on my head and moved them around a bit, all the while encouraging me to relax and disconnect from the pain with meditative discourse.
While I wasn't really sure if the technique had helped or not, I decided to look into the practice of Reiki to learn more. I found myself reading up on migraine pressure points, which are areas of the body that can be massaged to help decrease migraine pain. The application of pressure to areas on the feet, hands, and ears is known as reflexology.
There is a spot on your hand, known as the hegu point, that I have found to be particularly effective in reducing migraine pain. The hegu point is located between your thumb and forefinger, as illustrated below.
To alleviate migraine pain, use your thumb and forefinger of the opposite hand to squeeze the hegu point until you feel a mild discomfort. Continue to hold that pressure for 20-30 seconds and then release.
I have found that a good natural alternative to medication is vitamin supplements. In particular, the amino acid L-arginine.
L-arginine is traditionally used to treat heart and blood vessel conditions. It has long been argued that the dilation and constriction of blood vessels in the head may be a primary source of migraine pain. Thus, L-arginine's ability to reduce this constriction could be the reason for its effectiveness in alleviating migraines.
Specifically, I use an L-arginine supplement made by NOW Foods. I use this supplement as a preventative measure, as opposed to a rescue measure. I take one capsule daily to help reduce the occurrence of blood vessel constriction in my head. Each bottle has 120 capsules—that's a 4-month supply!
Vitamin supplements have been a great alternative remedy for me. I have not experienced any adverse effects from using L-arginine. When I was taking Excedrin and prescription drugs (topiramate, sumatriptan, eletriptan, rizatriptan), I experienced stomach pain, metallic taste in my mouth, and tingling in my hands. I have also experienced nausea and vomiting, as well as rebound headaches.
Always consult with your physician before adding a new supplement to your regimen.
Rebound headaches (also called medication-overuse headaches) are caused by regular, long-term use of medication to treat headaches. Pain relievers are designed for occasional headaches and can actually have counterproductive effects when overused. Your headache may go away for a brief period of time, but then come back even stronger.
There have been countless studies conducted with the goal of identifying headache and migraine triggers. If you're a migraine sufferer, you can probably identify some of your own personal food or environmental triggers.
Think of a trigger is anything that makes you say, "Oh no, I can't do that. I'll get a migraine."
Through personal experience and speaking with other migraine sufferers, I have identified several common food and environmental triggers that seem to be problematic for most headache-prone people.
Food triggers include:
- Alcohol (particularly wine)
- Deli meat (nitrites used as preservatives dilate blood vessels)
- Tomato-based products
- Aged cheeses
- Soups made from bouillon or meat extracts
- Cultured dairy products (sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt)
- Sourdough bread (and other fresh baked yeast goods)
Environmental triggers include:
- High temperatures
- Direct exposure to sun for extended periods of time
- Not drinking enough water
- Long periods of time between meals
- Lack of sleep
- Exposure to loud noises for extended periods of time
- Prolonged exposure to strong odors (avoid the Yankee Candle store!)
- Prolonged screen time (phone, computer, television)
Avoiding these triggers is an effective way of managing migraines, albeit a bit tedious. As someone who has suffered with migraines for so many years, though, it's easy to sacrifice the chocolate bar or limit my time in front of the computer. I'd much rather do that than deal with migraine pain!
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Rachel Hezel