Chronic headaches can be withering. They can also lead a person down the path to dependence on opiate-based pain meds. There are better ways to treat the pain. Here are three solutions—from three very different perspectives—on how to find relief.
Tereshel Johnson believes her acupuncture sessions work to relief headaches. But, as a woman who has worked and studied in the American healthcare world, she is sometimes skeptical about many of the claims made by other acupuncturists.
“There is so much that is unknown about it—it’s hard for Western medicine to get a grip on the Eastern mind,” says Johnson, owner of both Omaha Headache and Migraine Clinic and co-owner of Green Chiropractic in Omaha. “What we do know from studies: Acupuncture can work to relieve some problems. It definitely has its place.”
For those with chronic headaches, the first step is an extensive assessment. The primary goal: To make sure that there’s not some major medical issue that first needs addressing. “Acupuncture isn’t for muscular-skeletal problems—that kind of thing,” she says.
But acupuncture can be very successful releasing stressed muscles or reducing inflammation, she says.
“Sometimes Western medicine isn’t the answer for pain,” she says. “There is a place for acupuncture. We may not know how, but it has helped countless people through the ages.”
At her chiropractic clinic, Johnson also begins with an extensive evaluation. She first determines if there are major structural problems—or some other major health problem—that should be handled by medical doctors and surgeons. If the patient is healthy outside of some spine misalignment, she will begin a chiropractic regimen.
Headaches, she says, can come from problems in both the thoracic and lumbar sections of the spine. There is often a nerve being pinched or too little, or too much, movement between certain vertebrae. The key for those suffering headaches: Make sure you seek a cure to the underlying problem, not just some pills to numb the pain.
“If you medicate, the dysfunction and structural problems are still there,” she says. “And they are not going to get better by being masked. You need to go to the source of the pain to get any long-term relief.”
Haley Martin can toss around some awfully impressive Latin terminology for the muscles in your back and neck. The point is, though: As a licensed massage therapist, you’ve got to know the intricacies of the human body to know exactly where to focus massage therapy.
For those with chronic headaches, Martin says, the primary culprits are usually the three scalene muscles, the scalenus anterior, scalenus medius, and scalenus posterior. Whiplash is a common cause of damage and inflation in those muscles. Bad posture at work causes problems, especially if you’re slouched over a computer all day.
“Anatomically, people get their shoulders rounded, their chest muscles pulled together—everything pushed and pulled from where it should be naturally,” says Martin, who works for Downtown Omaha Massage. “Whatever the cause, the nerve bundle that leads to your upper extremities gets inflamed. So we have to go release that area with massage.”
And yes, the worse the ball of angry muscles and nerves, the rougher the job might be to get relief.
“Honestly, things can get a little intense,” she says. “The longer you’ve had the problem, the longer it can take to get to the solution. If things get intense, we start talking a lot about those deep breathing exercises.”