Dr. Gretchen Soberay: Headache Diagnosis and Remedies

Headaches plague millions of people, and while sometimes there’s no cure, solutions for managing them exist in the southwest metro.
Marcy Beix, a yoga instructor at Balance Life in Waconia, says relaxation can fight tension headaches.

We’ve all come head-to-head with that all-familiar ache. You know the one. Maybe it hits you after a long day at work or after a glass of red wine. Maybe it creeps in when pollen and dust begin drifting through the summer breeze. Or maybe you’ve been suffering for years, feeling helpless, a slave to the moments when your head throbs, your jaw clenches and your shoulders tense up. No, headaches are certainly no picnic. For years, many will go without any sort of solution. We’ll float through our days embracing the moments when we’re free of pain, and simply putting up with our chronic nuisances. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And we shouldn’t put up with headaches. More and more remedies for our pains in the head have become available over the past few years, and lucky for us, many of those are within reach in the southwest metro area.   Diagnosing Your Pain Gretchen Soberay, a family medicine and obstetrics doctor at Ridgeview Clinics sees a lot of headaches. Some of the most common that come through her office door? Tension is at the top of the list with a fair amount of migraines, TMJ/jaw-related issues and cluster-type headaches. Sourcing the headaches is key, and Soberay says that oftentimes, the cause lies in the patient’s history. “You can really find diagnosis in most cases,” she says of a thorough questioning about the headaches themselves, including intensity and precise location of the pain, as well as foods consumed and other outside factors. These things will all come together to give your doctor the whole picture. And while fear of something scarier or hesitation to do further testing of headaches may cause you to pause before checking them out, Soberay adds that imaging (such as CT scans and MRIs) is not usually the first step taken in diagnosing headaches unless there are major red flags. In fact, many times our headaches (especially migraines), if not tension-related, are the result of a reaction to certain foods or chemicals, such as alcohol, chocolate, cheeses (softer and aged), caffeine, NutraSweet, aspartame, MSG and more. They can even be the result of hormonal changes, especially in women. Remedies With a multitude of headache remedies ranging from homemade to machinery to Eastern medicine, it can be daunting to choose the right one. Oftentimes, it comes from a combination of experimentation and seeing what works best for you, as headaches can be a very specific, personal affliction. Here are a few starting points: Food diaries: For chronic headaches, Soberay often suggests a food diary to patients. That is, noting every single thing you eat and when to figure out if one of the trigger foods could be the root of the problem. Combined with a headache diary, this can be quite effective for quickly finding the source and cutting it out of your diet. Prescription and prophylactic medication: Particularly with migraines, medication may be the best answer for preventing certain types of recurring headaches. Botox: Yes, really. Botox is more than just cosmetic these days and is surprisingly effective in combating chronic, stress, and TMJ-related headaches. Injections are most commonly applied to the temporalis (temples), masseter (jaw), sternocleidomastoid (neck) and traps (upper shoulder) muscles and will soon be available at Ridgeview Clinics. 500 S. Maple St., Waconia; 952.442.2191; ridgeviewmedical.org Stress reduction, yoga and physical therapy: Something as simple as exercise or massage therapy may make all the difference in the world, particularly with stress-induced headaches. “Taking time to care for yourself sends a strong message of wellness to your body. Creating the space to draw inwardly and gently release tension over time will bring a greater sense of health and vitality to your body,” says Marcy Beix, one of the yoga instructors at Balance Life Wellness in Waconia.  Beix says that depression and anxiety can elevate tension headaches and can be simply relieved by “relaxing and paying close attention to good body mechanics.” She adds that headaches caused by muscle contractions are “due mostly to poor standing and sitting postures,” so misalignment of the spine can cause the muscles in your upper back and neck to become knotted up. Restorative yoga works by stretching long muscles of the low back and resting muscles in the upper back, shoulders and neck. This solution will not only relieve headaches caused by tension, but will also relieve stress that the headache places on the rest of the body, as well as help improve posture. “This type of yoga also encourages opening the chest therefore allowing the breath to deepen and come into a full sense of relaxation,” says Beix.Try everything from yoga to oriental medicine to acupuncture for an Eastern take on wellness at Balance Life Wellness in Waconia. 138 S. Olive St., Waconia; 952.442.2288; balancelifewaconia.com   & Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), may seem like an easy, quick solution, but if you suffer from chronic headaches, Gretchen Soberay, a doctor with Ridgeview Clinics, stresses that these are not the way to go and can even make your headaches worse over time, particularly in the case of ibuprofen, which can cause rebound headaches. If you rely on NSAIDs on a daily basis, it’s time to see a professional.