AMF spoke to Medical News Today about common causes of pain in the back of the head, such as migraine or medication overuse headaches.
Headaches can either be the primary cause of pain or a secondary symptom related to pain in other parts of the body. While some headaches might go away on their own, some have more serious causes, like migraine and medication overuse headache, that should be diagnosed and treated by a doctor.
Visit Medical News Today to get an overview of five common types of pain in the back of the head, including tension-type headaches, migraine, medication overuse headache, occipital neuralgia and exercise-induced headache. If you’re looking for a diagnosis or a neurologist to help you come up with a treatment plan, visit the American Migraine Foundation’s directory of healthcare professionals to find a doctor near you.
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Managing Your Migraine With Headache Hygiene
Published: March 9, 2018
‘Headache hygiene’ outlines best practices that help you take control of your symptoms
While there is no cure for migraine, a headache specialist can help design a treatment plan that addresses your symptoms with medications, non-pharmacological therapies, symptom management strategies or a combination of the three. Regardless of which treatment plan you find effective, taking steps to better understand the unique nature of your migraine and its symptoms will better equip you to avoid behaviors that may increase your risk of a migraine attack and lean on practices that have proven to provide you some relief. “Headache hygiene” refers to a series of behaviors and practices that many people find help them understand and manage their migraine. Dr. Cynthia Armand, MD, an assistant professor of neurology at the Montefiore Headache Center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, spoke with AMF about how headache hygiene works, why it helps, and how you can implement its best practices into your everyday life.
Getting to know your migraine
Migraine is different for everyone, and the only way to truly understand the patterns, phases and symptoms of your migraine is to truly study your individuals experience with the disease. Dr. Armand says the best way to do this is by taking notes as often as possible in a headache diary. “As a neurologist specializing in headache conditions, one of the first things I tell all my patients is that they need to keep a diary,” she said. Make a note each day about the appearance or absence of any head pain or other symptoms, what the weather conditions were like that day, and your diet. Consistency is key, Dr. Armand says, because “over time, you’ll see that a pattern is going to emerge, and it’s that pattern that allows you to identify your triggers.”
Learning your migraine patterns
After weeks or months of careful tracking, you may notice that your migraine attacks tend to occur when it rains, or when the seasons are changing: this could be a clue that your migraine is influenced by barometric pressure, and can help your doctor identify treatment strategies that target that pattern. Some people find caffeine seems to trigger their migraine attacks, while others say that a cup of coffee can offer some relief: tracking your caffeine intake and your migraine symptom frequency consistently in your headache diary can help you identify how caffeine affects you, and adjust your behaviors accordingly. “If you think there may be a potential trigger—for example, something in your diet that may cause some sort of migraine—you can eliminate it for a month, and track that month in your headache diary,” Dr. Armand said. “If your headache improves, it’s probably the case; if you reintroduce it and your headaches worsen, then you’ve sealed the deal.”
Understanding the diet connection
While migraine patterns and triggers can vary widely from person to person, there are some key healthy behaviors that improve migraine symptoms for everyone: these are also a key component of practicing good headache hygiene, Dr. Armand said. While dietary triggers can vary from person to person (our Meal Planning Toolkit can help you find yours), eating a healthy, consistent and balanced diet reduces migraine susceptibility across the board, Dr. Armand said. Sleep deprivation is known to increase susceptibility to migraine attacks. “You want to make sure you get adequate amounts of sleep,” Dr. Armand said. “We do find that if individuals have had a rough day, and they don’t get enough sleep, they’re more likely to experience a migraine attack.”
Practicing healthy habits
Regular exercise has also proven to be helpful for people with migraine who can manage even mild, low-impact physical activity like yoga. “Anything that keeps you more in tune with your body, and with what’s happening inside your body, will help with both the physical aspects of migraine and carries an added bonus of stress relief and added relaxation,” Dr. Armand said. The final key component of good headache hygiene is consistent hydration. In fact, caffeine’s dehydrating effects are believed to contribute to its triggering effect for some people with migraine. “We know dehydration is the biggest, most potent trigger for migraine,” Dr. Armand said. “So hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! When it’s hot outside, when you’re inside and you’re using a heater—make sure that you drink seven to eight glasses of water a day.”
Listening to your body, maintaining an exercise routine that works for you and eating regular, nutritious meals may not seem like migraine-specific health advice. But for people living with migraine, who navigate an unpredictable, disabling disease every day, paying attention to your body’s signals and taking the best care of yourself that you can empowers you to better understand, predict and reduce your symptoms and attacks. To learn more about how headache hygiene can fit into your treatment plan, and to access free tools like our Meal Planning Toolkit to help you take control of your migraine, visit the American Migraine Foundation’s resource library.
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Sleep Tips for Teens with Migraine – Facebook Live Recap
Published: March 8, 2018
Emily Law, Ph.D., shares insights on better sleep for young adults living with migraine.
Studies have shown that teens get diagnosed with migraine just as often as adults, and it can be just as debilitating. Many even have difficulty doing the things that make the typical high school experience, like going to school, doing homework and hanging out with friends. Besides the head pain, what often makes these activities hard to complete is issues caused by lack of sleep.
“Sleep problems are the most common comorbidity of migraine in teens,” said Dr. Emily Law, Pediatric Psychologist and Researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. While studying the impact of migraine on teens and their families, she found that good sleep hygiene is crucial to pain management.
Do Teens Need More Sleep?
Teens typically need more sleep than adults and children, and Law recommends they aim to get 9 to 10 hours in each night. A full schedule can make that much harder than it seems, so in a recent Facebook live chat hosted by the American Migraine Foundation, she shared her top five tips for helping your teen get a good night sleep.
Tip 1 – Set Them Up for Success
The first step to getting your teen to sleep through the night is looking at how their day is set up. Late night study sessions or early practices could be blocking them from reaching the 9 to 10 hours they need, so a big part of establishing good sleep hygiene is making sure their schedule allows for it. If it doesn’t, it’s time to make some adjustments.
“It’s important to try and arrange both your schedules so that they have the opportunity to sleep as much as possible,” said Law. “That might mean rethinking homework schedules or helping them cut down their morning routines so they can sleep in as late as possible.”
Tip 2 – Bring Back Bedtime
“The cool thing about sleep is that it’s a learned behavior,” said Law. “Your body can learn to fall asleep fast and fall asleep well based around a consistent sleep schedule. This has even been shown to work when dealing with insomnia symptoms. “
Having an established bed and wake time can do wonders for a bad sleep schedule, no matter how juvenile it might sound. It creates an internal signal within your body that lets it know it’s time to wind down to fall asleep. Law advises making it so your child’s sleep and wake time are roughly within the same 60 to 90 minutes every day.
Tip 3 – Give Their Bed a Sole Purpose
If your child uses their bed exclusively for sleep at night time, their body will eventually grow accustomed to the routine. According to Dr. Law, your teen’s bed should be a sacred place used only for sleep at night time. “It’s common for teens experiencing a migraine to want to crawl into bed and rest, but they should really try to find other places in their home or bedroom to rest comfortably. Maybe a bean bag or a couch.”
Tip 4 – Make a No Phone Zone
Studies have shown that the blue tinted light the comes from phones and other electronic devices can throw off your body’s sleep schedule. “Even something as simple as a Facebook alert can disrupt your sleep and is ultimately not helpful when dealing with sleep issues caused by migraine,” said Law.
Law advises investing in an old-school alarm clock to help make this a little easier, since most teens use that function on their phone regularly. Having a real alarm clock can help your teen feel more at ease about keeping their phone in a common area of the house overnight.
Tip 5 – Create a Wind Down Routine
Law’s final tip focused on creating list of things to do before bed, to let your body know it’s time to start winding down. This can include anything from reading a few pages of a book to showering and setting up for the next day. Keep in mind, they shouldn’t be too stimulating.
“Many of my patients favor setting up for the next day because it gives them the opportunity to sleep in,” said Law. “It’s great if they can do something that makes them feel good about the day ahead.