Not Tonight I Have A Headache

Introduction to Dr. Singh's new book

"Not Tonight I Have A Headache"

This is probably the most common utterance in a household. But it can take a whole new meaning if you really suffer from headaches. The existence of headache pain is as old as mankind itself. There is hardly an individual who can claim to be free of headache in his life. It is surprising that despite widespread prevalence of headache no one takes it seriously and each individual tries remedies that they have experienced to be effective.

This lack of seriousness is resulting in increased incidence for which medical attention is sought. It is one of the 3 most common conditions for which a neurological consultation is pursued, the other two being dizziness and back pain. In reality, headache can be a serious, debilitating illness. It has the potential to be life-altering, and in extreme cases, it does affect career, school, social life, and quality of life. Its impact on society is increasing at an alarming rate. Billions of dollars are lost to businesses; thousands of school days are lost per month nationwide. Headaches are the number one reason for missing work and school; not counting people who do go to work with their headaches, causing them to function at less than their best.

As a neurologist, ever since I saw my first patient with headache, I noticed that some patients would respond to certain medications, while others did not. Patients were being referred to me for headache treatments that did not improve with medications. I remember a patient suffering from chronic migraine. Before she was referred to me, she had gone to various doctors who had tried all medications available but with little effect on her condition or life. After talking to her, I came to the realization that the medications given to her were not given in the appropriate doses for an appropriate length of time, and that the side effects of the medications were perhaps not taken into consideration. I adjusted her medications in a way that maximized pain control, while at the same time minimizing the side-effects of the medication.

In much of Western medicine,

there is this knee jerk reaction:

You have a migraine headache? Here, take this pill. Man’s nature, being what it is, demands instant gratification. He is generally looking for a quick fix to his problems. Catering to this mentality, a myriad of over-the-counter remedies can be found in local pharmacies. While these remedies may be effective in controlling the symptoms of headache, they do not address the cause of the pain.

The question arises then, that if there are so many OTC treatments available, why are people suffering? 

If the majority of the headaches are benign, why are emergency departments and doctors’ offices filled with patients suffering from intolerable headaches and still not satisfied with their treatments? Why are patients drifting from doctor to doctor, seeking treatments, and resigning themselves to suffer needlessly? Is this their destiny? With all the resources modern medicine has at its disposal, why is this happening? Is there a flaw in our approach?  As I saw more and more patients with headache, these questions began to concern me.

Three hundred years ago, Descartes expounded the duality, the absolute separation of mind and body. Medicine in this century took his mechanistic view of reality, where science is only concerned with the visible physical and material reality, separating it from the mind. Scientific research has focused primarily on the physical, on the distinction of mind from body, causing scientists to rely exclusively on observation for their development of mechanistic explanations of physical events. Much of mainstream Western medicine is a product of this reductionistic view. As a result, the focus is on the disease and symptoms, not on health and cause. Disease is limited to the particular organ system which produces the most visible or painful symptoms.

When we explore the medical practices of societies that trace their origins back thousands of years, we see a different picture. Even Socrates stated almost twenty five hundred years ago that the mind cannot be split from the body. In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates states, “This is the reason why the cure of so many dieseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas; they are ignorant of the whole. For this is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body, that physicians separate the mind from the body.”

The Chinese traditions of acupuncture, the Indian traditions of Ayurvedic medicine and yoga, the Islamic traditions that preceded the modern treatments, the Native American medical practices, and many other healing traditions of different native societies, all viewed the body as a whole. These ancient traditions did not separate the mind from the body, and focused mainly on health and cause of disease, rather than just symptoms. Instead of focusing just on the visible, the outward manifestations of disease, the practitioners of these ancient arts focused on the invisible, the elusive underlying cause of the disease, and directed their treatments towards the cause.

To illustrate, let me give an example of one such technique. Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique (NAET) is a technique that addresses the cause of the disease instead of “fixing” the problem. It is a technique which combines Chinese medicine with other disciplines such as kinesiology, chiropractic treatment, and allergy elimination, among others.

Photography by Joann Pecoraro

I started incorporating NAET, life style review and stress management where applicable into my practice with astounding results. Not only were my patients getting rid of their headaches, the quality of their life started to improve. Their general health started to improve. Once I started considering the possibility of alternative medicine, I met several alternative practitioners: acupuncturists, homeopathic physicians, chiropractors and the like. It became evident that each of them had something to offer to the patient with headache.

Eastern medicine is concerned with disease prevention, looking at the whole individual, assessing what factors or combination of factors led to the symptoms, and addressing these causative factors rather than just camouflaging the symptoms with medications. The focus is on the cause rather than the symptom. My studies ultimately led me back to my roots, to the teachings of my own religion, Sikhism, where I finally understood the reality behind the mind-body connection, and how to eliminate disease.

The optimal approach to the treatment of headache is in combining Western medicine with select alternative strategies that have proven to be effective. This is the premise for writing this book, so that you can get an insight into combining various healthcare systems to provide a unified cure to a common ailment such as headache. The purpose of this book is for the readers to take charge of their own health and treat the cause of the headache in a way that leads to optimal health and disease prevention.

Tips to Stop the Pain of Headache

When you are in acute pain, all you can think of is getting relief from the excruciating pain of the headache. Before reaching for that pill or injection, though, there are certain non-medication treatments you can try on yourself to get rid of the acute pain. Not all of them will necessarily work for you but you may be pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of at least some of them. We will discuss these so-called “non-pharmacological” treatments in more detail, but here I will give you some tips to reduce the pain of the headache.

Twelve tips to stop migraine at home

without taking medications:

  1. Ice: One effective method is to put a cold compress such as an ice pack on the base of the skull, or to the forehead. Most of you will find that ice is a very good form of pain relief in acute headaches. Cold constricts the blood vessels, limiting the flow of blood to the head. It overrides the pain messages to the brain, and lowers muscle contraction by lowering your metabolism. If you are using an ice pack, make sure there is a barrier in between the ice pack and the skin, such as a towel. The sooner you apply the ice pack after the pain starts, the faster and more complete the pain relief will be.
  2. Massage therapy: Massage your face, especially temples. You may consider dipping your fingers in cold water while massaging your temples and back of the neck. Get someone to massage your neck and upper shoulders. This combines the soothing effect of massage with the constricting effect of blood vessels described in #1.
  3. Acupressure: Massage firmly the fleshy web between the thumb and the index finger of the hand for quick relief. This is an important acupressure point for headache relief. Using the opposite hand, squeeze the flesh with your thumb on one side and one or more fingers on the other side. Massage using a rhythmic squeezing action for one to two minutes. Switch hands and do it as long as necessary. Don’t squeeze too hard to cause pain, but hard enough to feel the squeeze. 
  4. Exercise: While migraine headache can be worsened with physical activity, some people find aerobic exercise in the early stages of the headache to be helpful in decreasing the pain. 
  5. Surroundings: Lie down in a quiet, dark room, avoiding bright or flashing lights. Turn off the television.
  6. Relaxation: Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to slow your brain wave activity.
  7. Water: Drink a glass of cold water or a nutritious beverage such as natural juice. Not drinking enough water can cause dehydration-induced headache. Make sure you are properly hydrated. Water is the real elixir of life.
  8. Laughter: You have all heard that “laughter is the best medicine.” Laughter is one of the best methods for quickly relieving stress. It can be particularly effective in relieving headache triggered by stress. Try watching a light-hearted comedy, while relaxing in a comfortable chair or couch.
  9. Sex: Another method of obtaining quick relief is sexual activity. Instead of invoking the popular excuse, “not tonight honey, I have a headache”, use headache as an excuse to engage in sexual activity.
  10. Aromatherapy: You can rub peppermint oil on your temples, especially for tension headaches. This method is said to be as effective as taking a NSAID for pain relief. Other oils used for headache relief include lavender and chamomile oils. Inhaling the oils can be deeply relaxing.
  11. Ginger and Aloe: These are ancient Ayurvedic remedies. Drinking ginger tea can be helpful in some patients with headache. For others, aloe juice can create a cooling effect.
  12. Fiber: A lot of headache patients also suffer from constipation. Changing your diet to one containing lots of fruits, vegetables and other sources of fiber, can be very helpful in reducing the headaches.

 Dr. Singh treats chronic pain after individualized education and as necessary with informed consents.