Head Bangers

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Why are headaches, especially migraines, so common in workplaces? From fluorescent lighting to stress, the modern workplace can exacerbate a tendency toward tension headaches and migraines. 
 
Many office spaces have fluorescent lights. And while there isn’t definitive evidence that fluorescent light itself can bring on migraines, the flickering that usually accompanies the lighting can sometimes trigger or intensify a headache. Other migraine sufferers report being triggered by computer screens, perfume, foods, dehydration, PMS, and stress. 
 
What’s a Migraine?
Tension headaches and migraines can run the gamut from mildly irritating to debilitating, but they are in fact different. Tension headaches tend to come on slowly and are usually dull and aching, sometimes with a band-like tightness around the head near the temples. With a migraine, on the other hand, there’s also heightened sensitivity to light, sounds, or smells. The pain increases with movement or exertion and can sometimes cause nausea or vomiting. Tension headaches can be treated with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or naproxen; for migraine sufferers, there are some prescription drugs that can minimize the intensity or duration of the migraine, but getting over them usually takes rest in a dark, quiet place.
 
According to the Migraine Research Foundation, 39 million Americans suffer from migraines—18 percent of women and 6 percent of men—yet women make up 85 percent of chronic migraine sufferers. Migraine is most common between the ages of 25–55—the prime earning years. Lost productivity and healthcare costs due to migraine are estimated to be as high as $36 billion a year. 
 
Staying hydrated, eating fresh fruits and healthy snacks throughout the day to keep blood sugar steady, and taking breaks from your computer screen are good ways to stave off headaches. 
 
Common Headache Triggers in the Workplace
Light. Fluorescent lighting is often cited as a trigger for migraine sufferers. And while there isn’t definitive evidence that fluorescent light itself can bring on migraines, for people who are already hypersensitized to light by fatigue, low blood sugar, or being premenstrual, the bright lights or the flickering can push them into a full-blown migraine. 
 
Computers. For other sufferers, the flickering and blue light from computer screens can trigger or exacerbate migraines. Eyestrain combined with bad posture can cause Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), whose symptoms include tired, blurry, and dry eyes; painful shoulders, stiff neck, and headaches. (Read “Breaking Good” for tips on taking regular breaks from your desk.)
 
Smells. Some people find that certain foods or smells are a trigger, and being in close quarters with numerous coworkers means exposure to foods and scents that we otherwise would avoid. 

Diet. If you’re too busy to eat lunch, or find yourself snacking on salty or sugary foods and not drinking enough water, this may trigger migraines too. 
 
Complementary Treatments
If you are suffering regularly from headaches, or think you are having migraines, consult your healthcare provider or a headache specialist. There are over-the-counter medications as well as prescription medications that can alleviate the pain or duration of a migraine. 
 
Other complementary treatments include acupuncture, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for stress reduction, relaxation training, and biofeedback. Some sufferers find relief through regular massage and specifically craniosacral therapy.
 
Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a gentle type of massage that focuses on maintaining the health of the brain and the spinal cord, also known as your central nervous system. A membrane called the dura mater, a tough connective tissue, surrounds your brain and spinal cord all the way down to your tailbone. Underneath the outer membrane is a layer of cerebrospinal fluid that nourishes and protects the brain and spinal cord. Stress, whether physical, mental, or emotional, can cause tension and tightness in this membrane system. Because the nervous system controls all of our body’s other systems, this tension can cause pain and other problems. 
 
A CST session is unlike a typical massage—there’s no need to undress, no oils or lotions are used, and you lie face up on the table. The therapist puts her hands on your feet, your sacrum (the large bone at the base of your spine), and/or your head and neck. Because the craniosacral system affects the whole body, the therapist works on any areas of the body where she feels restrictions and gently encourage movement. It’s very gentle work and often it feels like the therapist isn’t doing anything, but be assured that she is! Most people receiving craniosacral therapy feel very relaxed and calm, and often enter that almost-but-not-quite-dreaming state during the session. 
 
Everyone is different, so it’s impossible to say how many sessions you might need for your migraines to lessen. They may become less frequent, less severe, or not last as long. Some people find that regular sessions, weekly or monthly, can help control their migraines. 
 
As a craniosacral therapist for the past 25 years, I’ve seen firsthand how effective craniosacral therapy can be. One of my clients, a 34-year-old Jessica Golden suffered from severe migraines while working long hours as a paralegal in a busy law firm. After a month of weekly treatments, she noted, “Craniosacral therapy was the only treatment that offered me relief from my almost constant head pain. The restorative effects and the deep relaxation I achieved during treatment offered instant relief. It helped my body and brain remember how to be pain-free.”
 
To find a craniosacral therapist in your area, check the International Association of Healthcare Practitioners at iahp.com and click on “Find a Practitioner.” A good therapist should answer all of your questions and concerns. 
 
Massage is one more potential tool to add to your migraine management bag, but be sure to check first with your healthcare provider for advice.
 
Not medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before beginning any new treatments. 
 
T. J. Ford is a health and fiscal fitness coach, educator, and writer who usually eats dessert first. She lives with her husband and their cat, Kiwi, in Portland, OR.
 

 

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