Most people, at some point in their life, have experienced the pulsing, throbbing, or pinching sensations that come with a headache. But did you know that not all headaches are created equal? From the persistent pressure of a tension headache to the debilitating pain of a migraine, our brain's way of ringing the alarm can vary significantly.
In this blog, we will be exploring:
- The different types of headaches: What sets apart a tension headache from a migraine? Learn to identify their distinct symptoms and underlying triggers.
- Nature's arsenal against headaches: Discover herbs that have stood the test of time in easing headaches and migraines, backed by modern science.
- The Zen Maitri’s Headease Collection: Dive into the magic of our Headease herbal tea, soothing balm, and pulse point essential oil roller, designed specifically for headache relief.
If you've ever felt held hostage by the pounding in your temples, or if you're simply curious about the wonders of natural health, read on…
The different types of headaches: What’s the difference between tension headaches and migraines?
In the vast spectrum of headaches, understanding their nuances is essential. The more accurately you can identify the type of headache you're experiencing, the better equipped you'll be to address it. Two of the most common culprits in this realm are tension headaches and migraines. Though sometimes used interchangeably in casual conversation, they are distinctly different both in symptoms and underlying causes.
Tension Headaches: Often described as a tight band around the forehead, or the back of the head and neck; or a constant dull ache on both sides of the head. Tension headaches, as the name suggests, are primarily associated with muscle tension, usually stemming from the neck or scalp. Tension headaches can come and go over time, and they typically last a few hours.
- Dull, aching head pain, mild to moderate in intensity
- Sensation of tightness or pressure across the forehead or on the sides and back of the head
- Tenderness on the scalp, neck, and shoulder muscles
- Stress and anxiety
- Poor posture or jaw clenching
- Lack of sleep
- Eye strain
Migraines: Migraines are intense, pounding and throbbing headaches, usually on one side of the head. They can be accompanied by a range of other symptoms. They are more severe than tension headaches and can last for hours to days. Their frequency varies from person to person, but they tend to happen at least monthly.
- Intense throbbing or pulsing pain, typically on one side of the head
- Sensitivity to light, sound, and sometimes smells
- Nausea or vomiting
- Blurred vision or auras (visual disturbances such as flashing lights or zigzag patterns)
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Hormonal changes (e.g., menstruation)
- Specific foods or drinks (e.g., chocolate, cheese, wine)
- Weather changes
- Intense physical exertion
- Sensory stimuli (bright lights, loud sounds)
While tension headaches and migraines are the most commonly discussed, it's worth noting that there are other types of headaches as well, such as cluster headaches or sinus headaches. Each has its own unique set of symptoms and triggers.
Being able to distinguish between a tension headache and a migraine is crucial, not just for choosing the right way to manage them, but also for understanding your body better. By pinpointing the type and cause of the headache, you're one step closer to finding relief and, more importantly, possibly preventing future episodes.
While common, headaches can in some cases signal more complex underlying issues. While most are benign and manageable, it's crucial to stay informed about certain warning signs that could potentially indicate a more severe condition (Silberstein, 2023). It’s crucial to seek medical advice if your headache:
- Feels notably different from previous ones or shows a progressive worsening in either frequency or severity.
- Intensifies with actions like coughing, sneezing, bending over, or abrupt movements, hinting at possible increased intracranial pressure.
- Is accompanied by other neurological symptoms, such as changes in sensation or vision, sudden weakness, loss of coordination, seizures, difficulty speaking or understanding speech, or alterations in consciousness levels like drowsiness or confusion.
- Presents systemic symptoms like unexplained weight loss, fever, red eyes with halos seen around lights, or any unusual changes in blood pressure and pulse.
- Begins after age 50, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as a stiff neck, jaw pain when chewing, or temple tenderness.
Additionally, if you have any medical history of conditions like cancer, immunodeficiency disorders, or are on immunosuppressant medication, it's essential to be extra observant and discuss any headache patterns with your healthcare provider.
In any situation, when in doubt, it's always safer to consult. Provide your healthcare provider with comprehensive information, and ensure you prioritise your health by actively addressing any concerns. Remember, proactive steps in health often lead to better outcomes and peace of mind.
Soothing headaches & migraines with herbal medicine
From traditional practices to modern scientific studies, the therapeutic potential of herbs in alleviating and managing headaches and migraines is profoundly acknowledged. These botanical solutions can work in harmony with the body, addressing not just the pain, but the myriad causes and associated symptoms. Whether it's by supporting microvascular circulation, delivering analgesic effects, countering inflammation, mitigating nausea or calming the nervous system, herbs offer a holistic, gentle but effective approach that can be tailored to the individual's needs.
In this section we'll explore how and why certain herbs are commonly used in cases of headaches and migraines.
Cooling, minty relief: Peppermint (Mentha x piperita L.)
Peppermint has a long tradition of being used to relieve headaches. In the XIXth century, the King’s American Dispensatory (Felter and Lloyd, 1898) recommended using fresh, bruised peppermint for headache relief. Over a century later, the European Medicines Agency describes a “well-established use” of liquid or semi-solid peppermint preparations applied to the forehead and temples to relieve headache, attributing this effect to a “prolonged cold sensation” and analgesic effect on the skin (European Medicines Agency, 2019). Studies have found that applying peppermint essential oil locally (always in safe dilutions!) significantly increase blood flow of capillaries in the forehead and induce muscle relaxation, pain relief and mental relaxation, leading to significant improvements in headache intensity (Göbel et al., 1995; St Cyr et al., 2015).
The soothing duo of calming chamomiles: German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile All.)
Both German and Roman chamomile are renowned for mood enhancement and anxiety relief. They have well-researched anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, pain-killing and sedative properties (Mills and Bone, 2013; McIntyre, 2019). Clinical trials have shown their effectiveness in reducing anxiety and in alleviating pain in migraines (Amsterdam et al., 2009; Zargaran et al., 2018). Some of the active compounds that are responsible for these effects contained in the essential oils of both types of chamomile (such as the flavones apigenin, luteolin and apigenin 7-O-beta-glucoside) have been shown to not only be absorbed at the skin surface, but also to penetrate into deeper skin layers, contributing to their effectiveness in easing anxiety-related headaches and migraines (Babar et al., 2015; Merfort et al., 1994).
An ancient remedy for modern minds: Wood betony (Stachys officinalis Trevis.)
Wood betony has been revered for centuries for relieving pain, tension and stress, for enhancing circulation to the head (and thereby easing headaches) and for improving memory and concentration (McIntyre, 2019). It has traditionally been regarded as a solution for head-related ailments (Grieve, 1931; Culpeper, 1653/2019; Hill, 1740). For example, in 1653, English botanist and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper described it as being “those that have continual pains in their heads, although it turn to phrensy” (1653/2019). A recent clinical trial supported wood betony’s analgesic effects for migraines: pain intensity decreased significantly more quickly for patients taking wood betony as a tea compared to those taking placebo (Ashtiani et al., 2019).
Nature’s brain tonic: Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus Schleid.)
Since ancient Egyptian times, rosemary has been valued as a “rejuvenating brain tonic” (McIntyre, 2019). In the world of literature, Shakespeare poignantly noted in Hamlet (1603) that rosemary is "for remembrance." It promotes blood circulation in the brain, helping reduce inflammation and tension, which is beneficial for migraines and headaches. Modern research has showcased the pain-killing and anti-inflammatory effects of rosemary and its potential for pain management in headaches and migraines (Raskovic et al., 2015; Babar et al., 2015).
The scented soother: Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia Mill.)
Lavender is well-known for lifting spirits and reducing tension, stress, and anxiety. Its application for stress-induced migraines is well-documented (McIntyre, 2019; Babar et al., 2015; Gladstar, 2014). Clinical trials have confirmed the benefits of lavender essential oil inhalation in reducing migraine severity and frequency (Sasannejad et al., 2012; Rafie et al., 2016).
Zen Maitri’s Headease Collection: Harnessing the power of medicinal herbs to soothe headaches
Headaches and migraines can be very debilitating, often impeding our ability to function optimally. Zen Maitri's Headease Collection has been meticulously crafted to offer natural, effective relief. Composed of a soothing balm, a calming herbal tea and an essential oil “pulse point” roller, this collection harnesses the power of the natural remedies described above and others.
Containing peppermint, menthol crystals (the main active constituent in peppermint), German and Roman chamomile, wood betony and lavender, gently infused in extra virgin olive oil and hardened with plant-based candelilla wax, our Headease Balm provides an instant cooling and soothing sensation. Simply massage it onto your temples, forehead, back of neck and between your shoulder blades when suffering from a headache.
For those who prefer a warm, calming drink, the Headease Tea with its blend of herbs is the perfect accompaniment, designed to increase blood flow to the head, reduce tension, and promote relaxation. It contains wood betony, peppermint, feverfew, vervain, spearmint and lemon balm.
Last but not least, for rapid relief on the go, the Headease Pulse Point is an easily portable solution. Infused with essential oils of peppermint, lavender, Roman chamomile and rosemary, it's an easy immediate remedy for headaches anytime, anywhere.
If you're seeking a more personalised approach, a consultation with one of our herbalists can lead to a bespoke prescription tailored to your unique symptoms and medical history. And remember – if you're concerned about your headaches or experience any of the warning signs highlighted in the first section, it's essential to consult a healthcare practitioner.
While headaches are common, they don't have to control your life. With the right combination of natural remedies, as well as mindfulness practices, and medical advice when needed, you can navigate the stormy seas of headaches and migraines with greater confidence and ease. Your health and well-being matter. By staying informed, listening to your body, and seeking both traditional and modern remedies when appropriate, you're taking charge of your health. It's a journey, and we're here to support you every step of the way.
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