From March Madness to Non-Drug Treatments for Headaches…

Welcome to Thoughty Thursday here at More Cowbell! I’ve got two very unrelated topics on my mind today.

The #1 MOST exciting thing on my mind is that our pal Kait Nolan’s latest release (Red) has been included in the prestigious DABWAHA tournament. SQUEEEE!!!! This is some March Madness I can get behind!

p.s. Kait was the only indie author included this year.

If you’d like to show your support (and of course, you do), here’s how:

  • Sign up for Kait’s DABWAHA newsletter – you’ll get vote alerts…I love that!
  • Voting for Red goes LIVE at 12pm Eastern, TODAY!
  • The polls are open for 12 hours only, so don’t dally.
  • The newsletter is the way to go but here’s the link to vote – until 11:59 EST today.
  • Go to Kait’s blog for more details. She’s adding instructions as they come her way.

The #2 item on my mind (in no way related to the DABWAHA tournament) is headaches! I’ve been hearing about headaches for the last few weeks and, with going gluten-free, I had a few myself.

As a migraine sufferer from the age of five, I am well-versed in the hideousness of headaches. It seems like TONS of writers get them and I just can’t have my peeps feeling like doo-doo, now can I?

I’ve got to share my tricks wherever possible (IYKWIM).

What makes a migraine different than other headaches?

  • Migraines are usually chronic, which means you get recurrent attacks.
  • The pain usually is  unilateral (on one side of the head), although about a third of the time the  pain is bilateral (on both sides of the head). The pain will often change sides from one attack to the next.
  • A  migraine headache usually is aggravated by daily activities such as walking or bending over.
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, facial pallor, cold  hands, cold feet, and sensitivity to light and sound commonly accompany migraine  headaches.
  • A  typical attack lasts between 4 and 72 hours.

A migraine will often give a warning.

20% of migraine sufferers get an aura in advance of the headache – flashing lights or a hole in their vision. Mine looks like silver glitter that floats just above my eye level (I have to look up to see it).

When I see silver glitter, I immediately kick into headache prevention mode – ice (if I have time), stretching, relaxation breathing, very good diet for the day. And I do not leave home without my medicine on those days.

Note: A less  common aura consists of pins-and-needle sensations in the hand, arm or around the mouth and the nose on the  same side. Other auras include auditory hallucinations and abnormal  tastes and smells. I’m happy to say I’ve never gotten these.

An estimated 40%-60% of migraine attacks are preceded by warning symptoms lasting hours to days. The symptoms may include:

  • sleepiness,
  • irritability,
  • fatigue,
  • depression or euphoria,
  • yawning,  and
  • cravings for sweet or salty foods.

I included all the information I could find about the warning (and I have info on diet at the end) because knowledge is prevention when it comes to headaches. I have “big drugs” like Imitrex and Fiorinal but I try not to use them.

Excedrin Migraine was another fave of mine but they’ve pulled it off the market for a while. That’s when I decided it was this post’s time to graduate from my Drafts folder.

Non-drug treatments for headaches

Here is the Twitter-sation I had one night with my pal, K. B. Owen:

Kathy OwenkbowenwriterKathy Owen
 How’s it going, Calif girl? I’m up late w/a killer headache, so I figured I’d work on my blog. It’s 1am here. 😦
Jenny HansenjhansenwritesJenny Hansen
NOTHING worse than a headache! Do u have ice packs? Do u have Excedrin Migraine? Do you know where your pressure points are?

Kathy Owen
kbowenwriterKathy Owen
Pressure points?? I took ibuprofen

I’ve included a video on the pressure points I talked to Kathy about. This guys covers all of them except the one on the ridge above the ear.

Note: When you’re using the point on your hands, you want to target the opposite side from the headache. For example, if you’ve got the old ice-pick-stabbing-over-the-eye feeling on the right side, you’d focus on your LEFT hand for this pressure point. Do not use this pressure point if you’re pregnant!

Plus, I told her to use some ice.
Since most headaches are from inflammation and vascular issues, 15 minutes with ice is a really great way to push a headache back from intolerable to manageable. Her response:

Kathy Owen
kbowenwriterKathy Owen
I put the ice on my head?! ouch.

Jenny HansenjhansenwritesJenny Hansen
Ice: under occipital ridge (curve from head to neck) and across 4head. Breath air in & pain out. It sounds weird but works.

Jenny HansenjhansenwritesJenny Hansen
One thing I do is focus on relaxing one thing at a time until I have all the pain gathered in one spot. Then I put ice on it.

As we talked through her headache I started comprehending how many non-drug headache treatments I use. (Though really, we were dying over the “Desktop Twister” aspect of her trying to ice, do the pressure points and tweet, all at the same time.)

Now that I’ve been coined Doc Jenny, Twitter MD…
Here are my 4 biggest non-drug headache lifesavers:

  • Ice – helps cut down the inflammation and lessens the pain
  • Breathing – the more Oxygen you take in the better
  • Pressure points – opens the vascular pathways in the body
  • Bio-feedback – as a child migraine sufferer in the 1970’s, there were no migraine treatments available, so they taught used biofeedback to teach me how to breathe through the pain. It’s in the same ballpark as Lamaze techniques or meditation.

Here is a great link explaining biofeedback, but below was how I described it to Kathy.

Jenny HansenjhansenwritesJenny Hansen
@kbowenwriter – Focus on pushing all the pain from different parts of your head all 2 the crown of your head & out. (I know it sounds weird)

Jenny HansenjhansenwritesJenny Hansen
@kbowenwriter – The same place in your brain that allowed you to find your way around labor pain and the breathing will help a migraine.

We have another “headache expert” in our midst who can probably tell you even more than I can. Even though we just think of August McLaughlin as our pal, she’s also a certified nutritionist and health writer.

In the comments section of her post last week on The Menstrual Magnifying Glass, she taled about two treatments that I haven’t tried – oxygen therapy and a low-tyramine diet. (In retrospect, I realized I mostly follow a low-tyramine regimen, I just didn’t know what it was called.)

Other fantastic articles by August:

Do you suffer from headaches of any type? How old were you when they started? How do you treat them? Have you found successful holistic cures? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
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44 Responses to From March Madness to Non-Drug Treatments for Headaches…

  1. Donna Newton says:

    Must just say….Congrats to Kait! Way to go, girl!

    I’m really lucky in that I don’t suffer with headaches. And if I do get one, it is extremely rare. I tend to ignore aches and pains – my reasoning is, if I ignore them they go away. It’s worked so far, lol. I will remember this post, though, in case things change 🙂


  2. Good job Kait I signed up for her newsletter a week or so ago, so I am all ready to vote today!
    As for migraines… I never knew that was called biofeedback. I used to lay in bed sick to my stomach with a blanket over my head and pretend I was inside my brain squeezing the pain out of my ear. Sounds crazy I know.. but it was temporary relief.
    As far as taking Excedrin Migraine off the shelf for a while… it had no different ingredients than extra strength Excedrin. They just slapped “migraine” on the box.
    Great post today, Jenny. 😀


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Ooooh, good to know on the Excedrine, although where I am they took ALL the products off the shelf. I voted too! I’d do it three times if I could. I mean, hello? It’s our Kait!


  3. K.B. Owen says:

    Hi, Jenny! Well, that brings back memories. Thanks for your great help that night. It really was like a game of Twister, trying to use pressure points, apply ice, and type on the keyboard at the same time! Twitter Twister, LOL! It was so funny; you were going all-California nature-girl on me, but that stuff helps a lot. Meds can only take you so far sometimes, and lots of folks can’t take that stuff.

    And congrats to Kait – how exciting! I’ll have to check out her blog to figure out how to vote for her! Woot!

    P.S. – My husband’s side of the family gets migraines, but he never did until one night he got an ocular migraine – no pain – but it was a little scary. He couldn’t see from the middle of his vision out of one eye. Turns out a second glass of red wine did it. Our oldest (now 19) started getting migraines at age 11, and he would get an aura that looked (his description) like someone had a fingertip over one corner of his eye. I thought it was strep when he first got a severe headache and vomiting, so I was astonished when the doctor asked him if he’d seen anything weird before he had pain and he said yes! I’ve only had one migraine my whole life, thank goodness, when I was 8 months pregnant with my third child. Couldn’t take anything, of course, and it lasted two and a half days. Felt like my shoulders were curled up around my ears from all the pain. Labor after that was nothing!

    Thanks for a great post, Jenny!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You are welcome…Twitter Twister indeed. You rocked it! I had a migraine every day during most of my first trimester – they snapped off like a light in week 15 when my placenta really got groovin…it was AWFUL. And thank God, I had enough tricks in my arsenal to keep me functional.


  4. Congratulations, KAIT! I’ll hop to her site and get the scoop.

    I am blessed that I do not suffer headaches, other than the occasional low-grade sinus type headache.

    But, you mentioned biofeedback techniques. A therapist years ago taught me one that relieves anxiety. The old ever-popular Floating Anxiety. A feeling you have, with no discernible cause. To me, it felt like I had a clump of clay resting between my breastbone and spine. The therapist taught me to push against my breastbone with a fist and take deep, belly-expanding breaths, thinking about the air going past it as I did. “Good air in. Bad air out.” It works for me.


  5. Congrats Kait – awesomeness and here’s pulling for the big WIN!
    As you know, I suffer from migraines. I have since I was a child. As an adult, they’ve mostly become menstrual related. Meaning every period, I have a 3-5 day migraine. And I mean, migraine (debilitating pain that has me rithering for hours.) I’ve tried every drug on the scene and nothing seems to work so these non-drug methods are very appealing since I’ve just given up all together! They follow nearly the exact same pattern every period.
    4-5 am – I wake up with pain creeping from my neck into the back of one eye
    6 am – pain is so bad, nausea sets in, the chills, and I can’t talk, walk, or move
    6 am – 4 pm – excruciating pain
    4 pm – pain leaves ENTIRELY
    4-5 am – we start the whole thing over.
    Lasts usually for 3 days but I’ve had them last 5 days. After it’s all said and done, I’m exhausted, fatigued and in a fog for about another week. It’s gotten so bad that I now take a birth control pill (no need – hubby is snipped) for 9 weeks straight so that I have fewer migraines since who has THAT much sick time at work?!?! But it’s not my ideal option.
    Last time I had one, hubby came in and put a cold compress on my forehead. I didn’t think it’d do anything but I was AMAZED at how much pain in relieved so I will definitely be doing that again. I do visualization and deep breathing but I find lately, I get so depressed from having to go through this every 9 weeks with no relief or options in site, that I’ve kind of given up and I just do my best to sleep through it as much as possible but it’s a definite quality of life issue.
    I reviewed the low-tyramine diet and I too and pretty much there already but I will try to be even more aware especially leading up to my cycle. I will definitely look into the oxygen. And I will also try to the pressure points. Thanks so much for all the wonderful advice and suggestions!I I will try them all and here’s hoping I’ll stumble upon something that works. LOL!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Nat, I had you in mind when I wrote this post. Try the pressure points, some ice and meds BEFORE the headache. For example, go to sleep on ice. Drink extra water the week you taper off the Pill to have your cycle.

      I’ve noticed that along with the food triggers that dehydration and lack of sleep are two of the biggest contributors to my headaches. I think of it as the law of three – if I have 3 things that are jacked up, I WILL get a headache. Since the hormones are already working on you, start knocking down the others – muscle tension (which you get from the terror of the headache), dehydration, sleep, food triggers, inflammation, need for more oxygen, etc. If you look up in the comments, Amber West mentioned magnesium too.

      Also, read through Catie Rhodes comment – it rocks. 🙂


  6. Reetta Raitanen says:

    Congratulations Kait! I’m signed up to vote. I loved Red.

    The migraines suck 😦 I hope you haven’t had an attack recently and won’t have one any time soon. Thanks for sharing the pressure point tips. I’ll definately try them if I have an headache coming.


  7. Catie Rhodes says:

    I get migraine headaches. This might be TMI, but you’re a woman and I’m a woman…so there. If anybody is reading this and doesn’t want to read woman stuff, this is your **warning**.

    The headaches usually coincide with my menstrual cycle. Although I’ve head endometrial ablation, my hormonal cycle still runs the way it has since I reached puberty. A doctor once explained to the that the fluctuation of hormones causes this reaction in some women. Ever since I was in my 20s, I’ve had a prescription for one kind of migraine remedy or another.

    I have used Excedrine Migraine with some success. It works as well as some of the prescriptions I’ve had, actually. If it is on recall and you want some, I suggest you check somewhere like Walfart and see if their store brand (equate) has been recalled. You might be able to buy Walfart Equate Migraine, which will have the same ingredients as the name brand.

    [Interesting side note: If you’ll read the ingredients, excedrine migraine contains acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine. The milligrams of each ingredient boil down to about half a pill each of acetaminophen and aspirin along with a good strong cup of coffee (although there are caffeine pills you can purchase). I have been known to “create” my own dosage of Excedrine migraine in dire circumstances.]

    Another OTC remedy I’ve tried with some success is Tiger Balm. It works sort of like Icy Hot. My migraines start on the left side of the back of my neck, travel over the top of my head, and settle on the left side of my face. If I can catch the headache early, I’ll apply Tiger Balm to my headache’s “travel path.”

    Head On is an OTC topical headache remedy similar to Tiger Balm. Head On is available in the same area where you’d buy Excedrine Migraine. At Walfart it’s usually on the very bottom shelf. You use this the same way you use Tiger Balm, just applying it in the area where the headache is settling. Of course, there’s an online buzz saying the stuff is dangerous. I will say it has helped me, though.

    I’ve read about a few other topical headache remedies, but Head On and Tiger Balm are the only ones I’ve personally tried. I do recommend experimenting with them.

    Now. I had a friend once tell me that she had acupuncture for her migraine headaches. She said she didn’t have another migraine for about five years and that it was the best things she’d ever done. Then, she started getting the headaches again. Her old acupuncturist had closed shop and she wasn’t sure about trying someone new. Acupuncture is an idea I’ve kicked around.

    The only other thing I’ve been curious about (but haven’t tried) is visiting an herbalist. There is a registered herbalist not too far from here. I’ve thought about seeing what she says, but I have not done it.

    Currently, I have a prescription for Treximet. It contains naproxen sodium and sumatripan. Sumatripan is the same ingredient Imitrex contains. This works better than any prescription I’ve had because I don’t have a migraine hangover–which is my term for that sick feeling that sometimes follows even though the headache is all gone.

    Okay. This got way too long, but I hope I gave someone some ideas. Good topic, Jenny. 😀


    • Jenny Hansen says:


      I LOVE this comment!! Just so you know, On the Treximet, my doc told me to just take the generic Imitrex with an Aleve and I’d get the same results. It’s nifty how so many of the meds break down. I HATE the migraine hangover.

      I’m going to go to a nutritionist soon and I’ve wanted to try acupuncture for my headaches for a long time – I just had to clean up my diet first, which I have. Acupuncture absolutely cured the carpal tunnel I got during pregnancy.


  8. Can the same be said for cramps? Pressure points? If so, which ones? I know the magic treat of heat feels good on said area sometimes…

    GREAT post, Jenny! Thanks so much for sharing. I hate taking pills of any kind, but I will if I have to.


  9. Sharla Rae says:

    Jen, as your crit partner you that we are also headache partners. :/ Dark, silent rooms and ice packs for sure. The one thing I haven’t tried is the pressure point idea. Since I will desperately try anything, I’ll it next time.
    I can’t say for sure but Excedrine Migraine may be off the market because if you read the label it’s no different than the regualar stuff. Another reason might have to do with the ingredient, acetaminohen (Tylenol) which messes with your liver. I went to the doc one day after a 3 day migraine and taking Excedrine. The test showed my liver enzmes were off the chart. The doc handed me a prescription and said “no more acetaminophen for you!”
    I’ll ask Mr.T, hubby, and pharm. chemist if he knows the why on Excedrine and get back to you. Thanks for the great blogs and the links.


  10. Fabio Bueno says:

    Great tips, Jenny! I used to have massive migraines in my childhood–I wish my family knew about these alternative methods. I’m glad they are gone now.
    And yay for Kait! I’ve tried to vote for “Red”, but after filling the whole bracket, the system told me the deadline had passed. Not sure what happened. Will try again later.


  11. Sharla Rae says:

    Sigh of relief. Novartis who manuctures Excedrin did a recall of only certain lots of Excedrin after reports of chiped pieces of the pills inside some of the bottles. There may have been chips from some other meds. too. Mr. T is in the biz of making sure his particular co. meets FDA qualifications says even if this happens in only a handful of bottles, they do a recall to make certain it’s safe. This link tells about it.


  12. Amber West says:

    I was a migraine sufferer for some time. The “hard stuff” like Imitrex, etc left me unable to function or made it worse, so I had to find other ways to relieve the pain.

    Ice or cold compresses are what I still use even for bad tension headaches, and biofeedback has been my friend through migraines and debilitating cramps.

    Something that helped me with both my headaches and cramps was upping my magnesium (taken along with calcium) intake. Worked wonders.


  13. tomwisk says:

    I was born lucky, never had a headache. I symphatize with anyone fighting a chronic condition. Dental surgery has given me a tiny look into chornic pain. Ibuprofen helps and the dentist prescribed Vicoden but I’m staying away from them. The simplest solution to a problem is the best.


  14. FAscinating information, Jenny. I don’t get migraines, and headaches are rare these days. but I think this system of relaxing and breathing would work for pain n1ywhere.


  15. One really good tip I got from my flute teacher (strange place for a tip I know) is to hum. It won’t work on all kinds of headaches, but if you’re prone to tension headaches, humming is one of the best natural ways to ease the tension in the muscles of your neck and face.


  16. Love the pressure point. When I have a headache I get my DH to squeeze my Pressure Points. (How #IYKWIM is that sentence??)

    If you want to read a great (and funny) rant about people calling any-old-headache a migraine, this is a fab post by funny-man, Knox McCoy:


  17. Terrific post and tips, Jenny. I’ve struggled with migraines, too. I rarely have wretched episodes anymore, but when I do, I find my hubby’s oxygen tank extremely helpful. (He’s a medic, but most anyone can get a prescription from your doc…) It seriously knocks it away, as long as you catch the migraine monster early. 😉


  18. JENNYYYYYYYY!!!!!! Thank you SO much for this post – you know I was waiting for it ;p

    I’ve had chronic headaches since childhood – name the type of headache, and I’ve either had it, or am still currently suffering from it.

    I am sucha special girl, I get to have 2 different types of migraines – and actually, I do believe a third type has been given to me:

    (1) The One Where I Go Blind: I get a funny taste in the back of my mouth, saliva increases, vision goes a little funny but no apparent disruptions – then, up in the right-hand corner of my field of vision there it is: the first multi-colored squiggly! If I don’t take AT LEAST 4 Advil by then, I’m toast. After the squiggly grows and takes over my entire field of vision comes the unbearable pain and I lose the ability of form coherent thoughts. I just go to bed and hope to god that THIS time I don’t have to throw up. Then I have the “Hangover” the next day – ALL DAY. (Catie – I dubbed it the Hangover too! LOL…great minds, eh?)

    (2) The One Where I Can’t Move My Head: Blinding pain encompasses the entire back of my head and sends shooting pain across the top into my forehead. Nausea, dizziness, sometimes the bad taste – it’s all there. I can usually take something and it will either calm down or go away entirely. Depends on how fast I catch it. No hangover the next day on this one. WOOHOO!!

    (3) The Sinus Migraine: This one has just recently reared its ugly head. On top of the burning pain shooting up my nasal passages with every breath I take, I have intense pressure behind my nose and eyes, compounded by the feeling that my entire head is going to fall off of my shoulders with every movement, but only after my brain bursts out of my skull. Breathing hurts not only my nose, but my head…each deep breath brings more pounding and throbbing to the top of my head. And even better – this one likes to stick around a few days. I might be able to get it to slack off with Advil, but it’ll be back soon!

    Of course, with all three I have the extreme sensitivity to light and sound. My toddler is becoming so used to the phrase, “Shhh…Mommy’s head hurts,” that she now asks me how I feel every morning =|

    I’m SO trying EVERYTHING you’ve suggested…and I’m going to go read August’s posts RIGHT NOW!!! ;p


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I had no idea you were a headache sufferer, Kate. I am soooo sorry to hear that! Please let me know what tips work for you. And FYI, we can road trip up to August…she’s in L.A. I’m just sayin…


  19. Oh gosh. I’ve never had a migrane, knock on wood. But I do know that without my regular chiropractic visits I would have so much neck tension I’d be wincing in pain all the time. Ever tried an adjustment?


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Oh yes, I have a wonderful chiropractor and it does help me stay more headache free than I have in the past. My atlas gets out of whack and it’s BRUTAL. But during the gluten withdrawal migraines? Nothing worked except drugs and ice.


  20. StoriesAndSweetPotatoes says:

    Migraines are like almost dying. I suffered from them horribly in high school and thankfully grew out of it. I still can get a wicked headache but it’s no migraine. Staying super hydrated is my most effective weapon against headaches.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Wow, I think a quick onset like that is so very brutal. It just leaves you floundering.

      Hydration is such awesome prevention against migraines! Bravo to you, Sara. 🙂


  21. Jess Witkins says:

    I agree with Ingrid. Chiropractic work has done wonders for the week long tension headaches I used to get. It even helps me breathe better. And my doctor shared a lot of the tips you named with me. Ice packs on the occipital point, mini finger massages, neck stretches (either alone or with a partner for a deeper stretch), and I even have a roller that’s made out of a stiffer foam that I lay on and roll slowly up my back and down again that helps keep any alignments in place longer.

    Have you checked out Natural Health magazine at all? It’s my new favorite find at the library. I got a lot of my sleep tips from that magazine and Yoga Journal I like too for meditation guides. You already have awesome resources, but there are a few more to dig into!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Nice! I will look into both those resources. Thanks, Jess! I only get like 4 big whoppers a year anymore, because I catch them early. But I get “headache-y” all the time – I’ve just discovered ways to push them back before they can become a full blown migraine. Every little bit helps.


  22. Congratulations and good luck, Kait!

    Jenny, I’ve used to suffer from nasty headaches until I’ve changed my diet. I am allergic to wheat and that’s one of the major reasons for my headaches. And of course dehydration, lack of sleep and… caffeine withdrawal, hehe.I


  23. Pingback: How Gluten Free Eating Changed My Life and Banished My Migraines | Jenny Hansen's Blog

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