, Newburyport, MA


May 17, 2013

Health and Well-Being: What you need to know about headaches

Headaches cause a lot of pain and inconvenience for large numbers of people. They are one of the most frequent complaints that bring individuals to health professionals for help.

Dr. Donald Bakal, a psychologist and the director of headache research at the University of Calgary, conducted an in-depth, eight-year, mind-body study on chronic headaches. The results are of interest to both health service providers who treat chronic headaches and to the millions of people who are plagued by them.

Bakal’s study presents strong evidence that challenges the widely held belief that muscle-tension and migraine headaches are really different disorders. His research found clear evidence that they both share many common features. The differences between them seems quantitative rather than qualitative. Migraine sufferers simply have more severe variations of the psychophysiological conditions that generate muscle-contraction headaches.

This finding is a very important one because for years the notion that muscle-tension headaches and migraine headaches represent two distinct problems has been a kind of dogma. This dogma has persisted today even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. Some headache sufferers even assume that only migraines are legitimate disorders, whereas muscle-contraction headaches are not. Unfortunately, many people plagued by chronic headaches tend to think badly of themselves because of their problem.

Many, if not most, traditional efforts to treat headaches have involved giving medications that provide symptom relief. When absolutely essential, such medications are a blessing. They do, however, involve the unnecessary risk of side effects that can take their toll on the mind and the body. Pain medications, for example, impact our physiology, and they can lead to dependence and negative personality changes.

Moreover, this approach to treating headaches does nothing to identify or alter the causes of headache pain, it simply aims to cover up their effects. A clear finding in Bakal’s study shows that excessive reliance on medications to control headaches prevents sufferers from seriously considering the possibility that they can learn to gain non-drug control over their symptoms. In recent years, many thousands of headache patients have learned how to eliminate troublesome headaches without having to rely on pain-relief medications.

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