When your head hurts…

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When your  head hurts…

Chronic headaches — whether a dull ache or a stabbing, throbbing pain — can make it difficult to get through the day. Here are a few surprising causes and some tips for how to nip that ache in the bud

By Shamilah Petersen (Gallo Images)

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Published: Fri 19 Apr 2013, 1:31 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:38 PM

We have all had a headache — after all, it is one of the most common types of pain in the body — but what brings it on and how do you fix it?


Tension headaches are thought to stem from tight, contracted muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp and jaw. You may feel pain in a band-like pattern around the head, which can also extend to your neck, shoulders and face.

Surprising cause 1

Grinding your teeth, which often happens at night when you’re asleep. If you suspect you are a grinder, watch for side effects such as jaw soreness, loose or chipped teeth and headaches.

Fix it:

Practise relaxation exercises such as yoga stretches or meditation before bedtime to help alleviate stress. Also ask your dentist about getting a custom-made night guard that fits comfortably over your teeth.

Surprising cause 2

Holding in anger. When you are angry, you unconsciously tense your muscles, which can cause headaches.

Fix it:

Express anger, in a way that will not cause emotional or physical harm, when it first bubbles up. If you can’t express your anger to the person who upset you, then vent to a friend or partner. Also try deep breathing to relax your muscles.


For many women, migraines occur in the few days prior to or following a 
menstrual period. Reduced levels of 
the hormone oestrogen around the time of menstruation may play a contributing role. The intense, throbbing, pounding pain is usually felt on one side of 
the head or near one eye. The sufferer may also be sensitive to light, odours and noise and may experience nausea or vomiting. The pain can last anywhere from four to 72 hours.

Surprising cause 1

Poor posture (for example, hunching over your computer). The reason: your neck is out of alignment, which can create muscle tension in your upper neck and back.

Fix it:

Maintain good posture by holding your head upright. Also adjust the height of your monitor so that it is at eye level. A good idea is to take mini breaks every 15 minutes.

Surprising cause 2

Artificial sweeteners. Some of us are not able to effectively process aspartame, a sugar substitute found in diet drinks and snacks, which means we end up with high levels of it in our blood. This chemical may jump-start a migraine 
by causing blood vessels in the brain 
to expand.

Fix it:

If you suspect that you may be sensitive to aspartame, keep a headache diary for at least two weeks. When a headache strikes, record the day and time and what food or beverage you recently 
consumed. If you experience a headache consistently within an hour or two after eating or drinking something 
containing aspartame, steer clear of 
diet drinks and foods that contain the ingredient. Try switching to a different sweetener or opt for sugar.

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