Q: Dear Dr. Mao,
What is the difference between a migraine headache and a tension headache? What causes headaches and what can I do to alleviate the pain?
A: Headaches have many causes, and most are muscular, vascular, or sinus related. A migraine headache, which is vascular related, is due to blood vessel inflammation in the brain; it increases the pressure in your cranium, creating severe head pain, and sometimes it affects your optic nerve, leading to visual disturbance. A tension headache, which is muscular related, is often the result of muscle tightness and spasm in the areas that pull on the scalp: the neck, upper back and shoulder.
Whether you headache is migraine or tension, it is almost always triggered by the following health culprits: stress, allergies, sinus disease, lack of sleep, eye strain, a muscle injury in the neck and back, or the increased blood pressure that comes with usage of mind-altering chemicals and drugs. In women it may also be caused by a hormonal imbalance.
Headaches can typically be prevented by relaxation and stress-releasing techniques like meditation and tai chi. Also, the regular stretching and maintenance of your neck and back muscles combined with attention to good posture and ergonomic positioning while working or playing will help prevent pain in your head. Stay away from the highly allergenic foods that can cause headaches including: alcohol, chocolate, peanuts, dairy, wheat, MSG, nitrates, sugar, salt, and yes, caffeine (although caffeine, because it dilates your blood vessels, can provide instant relieve to a migraine headache, but be cautioned that regular use will make you dependant!) Keeping sinuses clear by using a salt-water rinse regularly. Avoid smoking, oral contraceptives, steroids, and any other drugs that may increase blood pressure.
Here are some natural substances that may help to prevent and also temporarily relieve headaches:
• feverfew, peppermint, wintergreen, chamomile, chrysanthemum, and passionflower.
You may find these specially formulated Traditions of Tao products helpful for headaches: “Pain”, “Internal Cleanse”, and “Tonic Oil”. Of course, discuss with your physician before beginning any new health regime.