December 2, 2023

My headache and I, it’s a long story, we will soon be celebrating our 20th anniversary. What to do about the headache That was an issue for me for many years. It is not always a migraine, often it is really “just” tension headache. But never those that go away after a walk in the fresh air or where you take an aspirin once a year. I had my first migraine the day before my first high school examination – a fact that I found extraordinary for years. The neurologist, whom I later told about it, just shrugged his shoulders and said: “Oh, the classic.” (By the way, a very capable man, more on that in a moment.)

I’ve wanted to blog about my painful companions for a long time – about tension headaches and migraines. But the fact is, I prefer to ignore them. I would love to pretend it doesn’t even exist. Those days when I can’t get up in the morning because I feel like my skull is exploding. The hours when they slowly wander up over the back of my head because I am sitting at my desk totally tense. The moments when I know: The day is over, now even medication doesn’t help anymore. Migraine.

The good news: after almost 20 years we have come to terms, the headache and me. Sometimes I’m even pain-free for two to three weeks straight – after 15 years in which not a week went by without tension headaches or migraines and tons of painkillers. I had headaches a lot. Therefore, today I want to write down for you what has helped me and is still helping – and especially what has not. Fortunately, after many ups and downs, the question “headache, what to do?” Has been answered for me. This list is very subjective – there are as many types of headaches as there are people. K a migraine attack are the same.Also, the causes of tension headaches and migraines were very different. What didn’t bring me anything works great for you? Wonderful – then tell us your story in the comments.

Which doesn’t improve my headache

Medicines, tons: they are even risky

Acetylsalicylic acid (ASA aka aspirin), paracetamol, ibuprofen … I know them all. As a tablet, granules to dissolve, with caffeine, in the migraine edition – name it, I had it. When the first attacks became more frequent, one or the other even worked well, and the day went on. That was soon the case less and less. Rather, the pills just managed to contain the pain somehow, but it still wafted like a thick cloud behind my forehead. So I threw in the next one. And the pain got worse. That sometimes dragged on for days. This is called “drug-induced headache” when headache medication causes new headaches. If this sounds familiar, keep a journal and write down exactly how many days a month you take pain pills. Is there more than tenThere are alternatives that work better. And rules of conduct that reduce the number of attacks.


About ten years ago the large  GERAC study (German Acupuncture Trials) ranthat was used to find out whether acupuncture really works. I did not take part in the study directly, but in its orbit, the treatment at the orthopedic surgeon was affordable and the health insurance took over part of the costs. Every week the doctor stuck the needles in my hands and ears, and during an acute attack a needle like an antenna in the middle of my head. The study later came to the result that acupuncture works for tension headaches and migraines, regardless of whether the acupuncture actually “needles” the prescribed points or any place (“sham acupuncture”). What happened to me: Nothing. Or maybe it was because I was “only” with an orthopedic surgeon with additional training, and not with a fully trained acupuncturist? I dont know. Incidentally, the statutory health insurance companies do not cover the costs of acupuncture for headaches.

Kinesiology and other alternative methods

The visit to the kinesiologist was great, no question about it. I lay relaxed on the lounger, she knocked on me, held my arm up, parroted what I had previously formulated as a suspicion for the causes of my headache (The high school stress? The guilty conscience of having learned too little ? I’m not sure what I rhymed back then). I went home refreshed and in a good mood, convinced that I had done something important for my health. It changed: nothing. Of course, the same applies here: Should I have gone there more often, wasn’t the therapist the right one? I dont know.

The same goes for homeopathy and craniosacral therapy and other things that I’ve tried because I was desperate and grabbed every straw. Something will help.Although – the session with the Egyptian-Canadian craniosacral therapist was really interesting and even funny. He was a guest in my yoga studio at the time, took off 100 euros twice from me, held my head for a long time, pulled hard on my arms and legs and chatted at me in his funny English. The migraines did not improve. But it was very entertaining and definitely not as fun-free as with the kinesiologist. I think I remember that at some point he said “You will once write about health, oh yes, you will”, but I don’t know anymore if I’m imagining it. It was more than ten years ago.

Yoga and other relaxation techniques

That reads almost heretical now: “Relaxation exercises didn’t help me against my headaches.” They haven’t for a long time either. Because I was impatient, looking for quick effects. NOW I HAVE MEDITATED THREE TIMES AND STILL HAVE MIGRAINE, WHAT IS THAT ?!

I learned a lot from it. The most important thing: you need patience. Prepare for a couple of years. And when the headache is already there, no more yoga, no deep breathing into the stomach, no autogenic training, especially not with migraines.

What works against my headache

This purposely says “my headache” – because if there are at least as many types of headache as there are people, then there are probably as many remedies and behaviors that can help. This text is therefore not an instruction for you if you also suffer from headaches or migraines. At most, a handout, an idea.

And that has reduced the number of my headache attacks from “far too frequent” to “bearable” – until today:

A good doctor

I went to exactly two doctors with my migraines. At the very beginning, after one of the first attacks on my family doctor, who was pretty at a loss. And then again eight years later with a specialized neurologist. At that time I couldn’t imagine living longer than three days without a headache. I found the neurologist through the expert list of the German Migraine and Headache Society. He had seen more blatant cases than me and that was kind of comforting. For years I had narrowed myself down on my migraines, they were always there, slipped into my life, stopped everything, was to blame for everything. And now someone found me, very fatherly: Everything is normal. There are people like you who rack their brains. You are unlikely to get a stomach ulcer.

He wasn’t into psychologizing, but of course he said that stress can and often is a trigger. That people like me simply “make a head” about many things, often unnecessarily or exaggerated, but that’s the way it is. But that it is also normal when the pain comes when I’m actually not under stress, for example at the weekend when I sleep too long or too little. The causes and processes in the brain in migraines are still unclear. What is certain is that certain nerves are overexcited during an attack and neurotransmitters increase pain sensitivity. In the case of tension headache, the cause seems to be related to poor pain suppression. Nerve centers that normally block pain signals will not work properly.

I was given beta blockers as a preventative measure , which really helped reduce the number of attacks. Beta blockers are actually medicines for high blood pressure, but they have been found to be useful for migraine prophylaxis as well. I kept a headache diary for months that the doctor kept going through with me. I wrote down every migraine attack, every tension headache, every tablet. My savior was a triptan . Migraine pain occurs in the blood vessels of the brain and triptans block the neurotransmitters that trigger this pain. If you take them early, they will stop the headache before you feel it.

Medication, used carefully and in good time

For years I had dealt with headache like this: At first I ignored it, following the motto “This time it won’t be so bad”. When my skull finally exploded, I almost panicked and took paracetamol or ibuprofen. And finally I had the maximum daily dose and the headache only got worse. My neurologist has therefore impressed on me: Don’t wait, especially not with the triptan. Taken in time, it will stop the attack. Some triptans are also available over-the-counter in pharmacies. But those who suffer from frequent migraines should speak to a doctor before taking one. Because: Not every drug helps everyone equally well. Finding the right therapy is an act of strength for every headache patient, and you should definitely have a specialized doctor by your side.

I can now assess my headaches so well that I already know whether I should take an ibuprofen right away or put peppermint oil on my forehead and an hour of sleep to get myself fit again. I certainly don’t believe in taking a pill straight away for every twitch in my head. But I think even less of tormenting yourself unnecessarily and giving pain the chance to ruin your day.

Self care and proper behaviors

Headaches are actually a great signal.There is someone in your head and makes you very clearly and very loudly clear that this is not possible. That it was too much. That a break is now simply necessary. Sorry that you can hardly move and hang over the toilet every hour, but there was no other way to do it now. The more I take care of myself, the fewer my attacks. Sometimes I succeed more, sometimes less. I got to know each other pretty well through my headache. For example, I know that I will definitely get an attack when I have mastered a difficult task or situation. As soon as I lose tension – whack! My brain box bursts. I am now preparing for it, have an emergency ration of ibuprofen with me and go home immediately.

Pro tip from my neurologist: For a while I always had raging headaches on Saturdays after I slept in. No wonder, said the neurologist, your whole body is programmed to sleep from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Now suddenly you sleep 2 or 3 hours longer. For a migraine sufferer, this is too much out of line. Cheat the disposition. Also, get up at 7 on Saturdays, get the newspaper, read an article, and then go back to bed.

I thought he was kidding me. But it worked. Today I have children and therefore the problem of sleeping too much no longer , but then this tip was a real help.

Headache and contraception / pregnancy / breastfeeding

Headache and migraines are at the top of the list of side effects in the pill information leaflet. I suspect that the pill also triggered the attacks in me – of course, it cannot be verified whether this is really true. It was noticeable, however, that for the first time in years I was symptom-free for a full four weeks as soon as I stopped using hormonal contraception. A falling estrogen level (before the period) can also lead to migraines – but this is different for every woman. I now get along best with a hormonal but estrogen-free method of contraception, the so-called hormone IUD. (Headaches are one of the side effects under the link provided, but the IUD has had a positive effect on the attacks for me – definitely talk to your gynecologist if you are interested in this method of contraception.)

My neurologist was also an important advisor on headaches during pregnancy and breastfeeding. At the beginning of the first pregnancy we discussed in detail what I could do about the attacks and which drugs were not allowed, for example ibuprofen. I found that regrettable, as it is the active ingredient that can still do the most against my pain. I was allowed to take paracetamol during pregnancy, so I got along quite well, except for a three-day attack in the second trimester.

The migraines were particularly severe after giving birth, while breastfeeding. I hardly dared to take a pill, went up the walls in pain or hung over the toilet because of the severe nausea. As a headache / migraine patient, please find out exactly what you can take for the pain while breastfeeding. You should avoid triptans if possible, but paracetamol, diclofenac or ibuprofen are definitely allowed . The blatant attacks while breastfeeding were one of the reasons for me to continue using a hormonal but estrogen-free method of contraception. The hormone spiral is not without controversy, but it actually made my life easier. Whether contraception, pregnancy or breastfeeding: In any case, talk to your neurologist and / or gynecologist about what could be of use to you in order to be relieved of frequent and violent attacks of headache.

Yoga and jogging

The orthopedic surgeon who stuck the acupuncture needles in my palms indicated that he actually considered endurance sports to be the better approach. I then very reluctantly tackled the learning to jogging project and after a while – you have to do it regularly and over a longer period of time – I noticed that it helps. As the Monaco Franze says: Also for the soul. The thought carousel stops for half an hour in the fresh air at a moderate pace. Ditto yoga: If you have an acute headache, there is no point in lying on the mat. But for prophylaxis, yoga is perfect for me.  The most important thing is: I have to do both on a regular basis, it has to fit into my everyday life, such as brushing my teeth or shopping for groceries. That is not always easy. But mostly it works.

Patience and acceptance

It took me years to realize that yoga and jogging actually help against headaches. Patience has never been my forte, but it has really proven to be worthwhile to stick with it. At some point along the way, I also learned: There is no point in hoping for quick help, the immediate effect.

We then arranged ourselves, me and my headache. They are “mine”.

I no longer fight them with every fiber as I used to, when the mere thought of them made me incredibly angry. They should just go. And were always there again. Today I think to myself: You just belong to me. Headache what to do The question doesn’t bother me anymore. Nothing hits me in the stomach, I just rack my brains when I’m stressed. I accepted the headache and haven’t seen her as the big bad guy in my life since. More like relatives, whom you can’t choose and you don’t necessarily have to sit next to at a family celebration. As long as they no longer move in with me permanently – everything is ok.

Do you also have a headache story? What works best for you? Tell us in the comments!

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