Headaches are one of the most common pain problems. Almost everyone has experienced an acute headache in their lives. About 15% of the population has experienced recurring headaches that can lead to debilitating pain. Sometimes the pain is generalized but often it is centered on a specific area of the head which can be indicative of the type of headache the individual is experiencing.
Some of the more common recurring headaches include migraines and tension headaches. The treatment for different types of headaches varies based on the cause and symptoms. But new treatment and pain relieving techniques are being discovered all the time and what can’t help one person could help another.
Here are eight innovative treatments for headaches.
Earlier this week, we explored acupuncture for head pain in-depth. Acupuncture is performed by trained practitioners who insert fine needles in specific points along the body’s meridians which then corrects the flow of the body’s natural energy known as qi. This is a relatively low risk treatment so it is often recommended as an exploratory option for people looking to reduce their pain or their dependence on medications. Acupuncture is fairly accessible anywhere in the country.
This method is a way to retrain the brain to react to painful stimuli. In a session, the patient is able to observe their vital signs and brain activity as a headache occurs. These tools help them visualize the effects of stress on their bodies and they are able to learn relaxation techniques that can help control the triggers that lead to these headaches. Patients work directly with specialists for this process.
This method is a way of inhibiting or disrupting the pain signals that are being communicated by the nerves to the brain. Impulses to the nerves can lessen the signals and help relieve pain. Some patients experience headache relief from deep brain stimulation where electrodes are implanted directly in the brain which override the body’s natural inclination to transmit pain to the brain. It has been most successful in treating cluster and tension headaches. There have also been observable relationships between the quality of sleep and these types of pain signals. Neuromodulation is still experimental and will require additional testing before it is recommended as a standard treatment for certain types of headaches.
4. Transcranial stimulation
For a non-invasive option, transcranial stimulation has several similarities to neuromodulation. Electrodes are applied to the head on a cap that stimulates the appropriate nerves through the skull. One form of this treatment, TENS, is already commonly used for a variety of pain conditions. There are very few side effects and the worst reported seem to be mild pain and muscle cramps. It has been proven effective for cluster and migraine headaches.
The use of pharmacological treatments can land fully on both ends of the medical spectrum. Some specialists feel like medication is over-prescribed while others feel it provides the best pain relief for their patients. However, many headaches don’t respond well to the types of drugs that are currently on the market and the final step is often opioids that come attached with a very high risk of dependency or addiction. Some doctors are seeing success using the popular cosmetic injections known as Botox. Ultimately, patients are injecting a powerful neurotoxin into their skin but, when supervised by a medical professional, it can be used to relax muscles that are strained during a headache. It has been approved for treating tension headaches and chronic migraines.
For patients suffering from the pain of cluster headaches, which can be tricky to diagnose and treat, inhaled triptans have had some success. However, they are best if used against specific headache pain and are not considered a cure. They have limited side effects if used correctly. Though this treatment will not stop headaches from reoccurring, it can help restore normalcy when life is interrupted by head pain.
7. Massage therapy
Because tension is at the heart of several types of headaches, many patients have success with massage therapy. Stress can be a major cause of head pain but that can also make it difficult to treat in an effective way. Since stress can be caused by both major and minor life events the head pain can come and go frequently and at inconvenient times. Many doctors recommend massage therapy for patients dealing with the effects of stress causing head pain. Some insurance companies will even pay for massage therapy with a licensed practitioner if it is prescribed by a doctor.
8. Radiofrequency ablation
Of course, for some people suffering from debilitating chronic migraines the final solution needs to be invasive. For the least invasive of the surgical procedures, some patients turn to radiofrequency ablation. In the procedure, a needle-like probe is inserted into the back of the neck near nerves in the upper spine. The probe then uses radio waves to create an electric current that heats the nerve endings. This incapacitates the nerves so they no longer transmit the incorrect pain data to the brain. This can be a permanent solution for chronic head pain.
There is new research being conducted all the time and various studies will have a direct impact on the treatment of the various types of headache pain. In January, the American Migraine Foundation shared updated information about the best medications to treat chronic migraine pain. Unfortunately, at the same time another report was published expressing concern about the worsening trends in headache management. But there are always advancements that demonstrate value to individuals living with chronic head pain.
Do you suffer from frequent headaches? What kinds of innovative treatments have you used?
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