Treating and Preventing Bodily Aches and Pains
© Copyright 2008, by Timothy Conway, PhD
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimates that back/neck pain results in 100 million lost work-days every year for working adults in the USA alone, and that 4 out of 5 Americans will at some point in their lives experience major back/neck pain.
Add the lost days and lost productivity due to severe headaches, eyestrain, and other acute or chronic painful conditions in the hands-wrists, arms-shoulders, hips, legs and feet, and you have lots of physical and financial misery for all parties concerned in today's work-world.
What are the major causes and contributors to this en masse ache-and-pain syndrome? Psychological stress, repetitive stress injuries at the body-mechanical level, poor posture, ergonomically unsound work-stations, careless awkward movements, and lack of proper exercise, deep breathing and good nutrition all head the list of preventable causes.
Let's take time at this long webpage to examine each of the major forms of pain and find really helpful ways to relieve this pain and the underlying ill or unsound conditions causing such unhealthiness...
But speaking in general at the outset, virtually all the painful conditions discussed below will hugely benefit from the following seven elements of a healthy lifestyle:
1) Deep, restful, rhythmic breathing, powered by the diaphragm muscle, starting first from the abdomen before moving up into the chest. (The lungs are rather "pear-shaped," with larger capacity lower down, hence it makes sense to re-train oneself to begin one's breath "from the belly" by expanding the diaphragm muscle.) Such full-range "complete breathing" starting from the abdomen is physiologically associated with the crucial vagus nerve and an organismic sense of safety and wellbeing, whereas mere chest-breathing is physiologically associated with the "flight-fight-freeze" stress response of the organism. Deep breathing, therefore, not only nourishes us with adequate amounts of oxygen and richer blood-flow, it also calms us down and helps us cut through stressful situations, including physically or emotionally painful situations.
2) Eating wholesome, nutritious foods, that is, eating "low on the food chain" with a completely vegan, or near-vegan diet-- lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts/seeds, whole non-GMO grains, and avoiding animal foods and processed carbohydrate "junk food." This nutritional plan will keep one's blood-sugar levels healthy and keep one's heart and arteries unclogged, free of plaque and atherosclerosis, thereby allowing a healthy flow of oxygen-rich blood and various crucial nutrients to nourish our bodies. Just as you wouldn't try to run your car by filling its gas tank with milkshakes, ice cream, burgers, bacon and hotdogs, don't try to run your body on overly fatty/sugary junk-food, either.
3) Drinking adequate daily amounts of pure water throughout the day, and steering clear of stimulating but quite ennervating soda pops, alcoholic beverages, excessive levels of coffee or black tea, and other things not conducive to healthy blood-sugar levels and healthy blood-flow.
4) Getting adequate movement and healthy exercise in the three major categories of excercise: stretching and yoga for suppleness; aerobic exercise for cardiovascular fitness; and strength-training (weight-bearing exercise) for healthy muscles, tendons, ligaments and strong bones. This is exercise for the physical body; it's also good to exercise, tone and refine the subtle energy body through intermediate and advanced forms of Indian yoga (especially linked with the breathing) and Chinese Taoist ch'i kung (Pinyin: qi-gong) exercises.
5) Learning and then consistently maintaining elements of good posture, whether standing, walking, sitting, turning, reaching, bending, or lying down. We will have more to say about this in the section below, but, in general, this involves a proper relationship between gravity and one's human anatomy.
6) Sufficient levels of sleep. Experts now recommend fully eight (8) hours each 24-hour period so as not to cumulatively incur any "sleep deficits" in either deep Stage 4 dreamless sleep or REM (rapid-eye-movement) dreaming sleep. The former regenerates the body, the latter refreshes the mind. Read this essay on
sleep and dreaming.
7) Keeping a positive mental-emotional attitude in the verbal, visual, and energetic aspects of the psyche (see my separate webpage on clearing emotions), along with a mature, authentic spiritual Realization (for starters, see the Inspirational Quotes section at this website and also our www.enlightened-spirituality.org website featuring the wisdom of some of our eminent spiritual masters).
Aware of these initial advisory points, let us now discuss some major painful bodily conditions and their specific remedies:
Economic pressures in recent decades have forced many employees to work harder and longer hours to keep their jobs, a trend that poses major ergonomic risks and can result in severe and chronic back and neck problems.
The neck and back regions of the spine are a marvel of evolutionary and/or Divine design, along with the surrounding muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones and joints of the head, torso and pelvis. The spine is a column of 33 vertebrae bones and tissue extending from the skull to the pelvis, with the vertebrae enclosing and protecting the spinal cord or cylinder of nerve tissues. Between each vertebra is a cushioning inter-vertebral disk, a shock-absorber band of cartilage. The five types of vertebrae are the cervical (the 7 vertebrae forming the spine's upper part); thoracic (the 12 bones between neck and lower back); lumbar (the 5 largest, strongest vertebrae, located in the lower back between chest and hips); and the sacrum (5 vertebrae fused together) and coccyx or tailbone (4 fused vertebrae) at the bottom and base of the spine.
But this wondrous spine is obviously prone to 1) mechanical problems (e.g., muscle tension, spasms, inter-vertebral disc degeneration, ruptured/herniated discs); 2) injuries (strains, sprains, bruises, etc.); 3) acquired conditions and diseases (scoliosis or spinal curvature; spondylolisthesis; arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis; spinal stenosis or narrowing which pressures the spinal cord and nerves; osteoporosis-caused fractures of the vertebrae; pregnancy; kidney stones; endometriosis); and, far less likely, 4) infections (like osteomyelitis, or, with the discs, discitis) or tumors. These are the four major causes of pain in the back and neck.
Obviously, most of these conditions will require the attention of a physician and/or a physical therapist. But the most common problems, muscle tension, spasms and strains, can be resolved on one's own through the following health tips.
Chiropractors and physical therapists recommend the following for good back/neck health:
• Even more important than good posture (see below) is intermittent movement and change of posture. A person’s body only tends to tolerate being in the same position for approximately 20 minutes before requiring an adjustment. Therefore, it makes sense to get up at least this often and do a bit of flexing or strolling around for at least a minute or two, preferably five or six minutes at a time.
• Whenever possible, take a break from long sitting by doing some of your work while standing up to give your spine a little reprieve. Do some of your talking on the phone while standing, and occasionally place reports or reading material on top of a waist-high high filing cabinet so you can stand and read it, and not do everything while seated for long periods.
• As for posture, when we have to be in one position for a certain kind of task, we do well to adopt and maintain good form, which helps relax unneeded muscles and allows easy balancing whether standing or sitting. Bad posture leads only to more rapid muscle fatigue and possible mal-formation of the spine and surrounding muscles, and consequent painful complications.
• When sitting, a worker does well to choose a chair that properly supports the back, not in a rigid straight line, but a gently curving "S" shape. The lower back should meet the chair (if needed, insert a thin cushion or pillow). And position the feet flat upon the floor. The conventional wisdom is that all of one's joints--arms, hips, knees, ankles--can form "right angles." Yet some of the newer ergonomic wisdom says that the hip-leg angle can be larger than 90 degrees, up to 130 degrees for greater longterm comfort. Moreover, the legs should move very often, not stay fixed in the 90 degree position. The forearms need not always be parallel to the floor, but can orient lower, say, by putting a computer keyboard in one's lap or on a lower table or desk extension.
• From time to time, lean back in the chair--or, even better, stand up--and reverse the curve of the lower back, arching backwards and taking the back of the hands to gently rub or massage the lower back, left, right and center. This reverse curving-arching of the lower spine is crucially important, for much or most of our life is spent with the spine curved at the lower back, and we need the opposite movement for somatic balance. Many people think that "stretching and loosening the back" means bending over and reaching toward the toes, but only doing this forward-bending exercise is imbalancing for the body's structures. The reverse curving of the lower back will release a lot of stress on the spine and surrounding muscles by helping to work all the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of this bodily region in the opposite direction. Various yoga asana or poses--arching backward while standing, seated, or lying face down (e.g., the "Cobra," "Upward Dog," "Bow" asanas) will also help flex the lower back into this reverse curve for anatomical balance.
• Experts have shown it to be a myth that lifting heavy objects will strain your back. Most injuries are caused not by what you pick up, but how you do it. The proper way to lift an object is to squat, keeping your back straight, and, if the object is not too heavy, preferably with one foot a bit more forward, the other behind. Grab the object, bring it close to the body, then stand up; the muscles of your thighs and buttocks should do the lifting.
• When a job or task requires workers to stand for long periods, their legs, torso, neck and head should be generally in line and vertical, with knees slightly "unlocked," a position requiring the least amount of energy to maintain. Teachers, restaurant and hotel workers, who spend 7+ hours daily on their feet, can stand in good posture by keeping one foot slightly extended and re-adjusting at least every 10 minutes. If possible, use a nearby step or stool to rest one foot on a higher plane than the other, and try to sit down at every chance or, even better, lie down and elevate the legs with a pillow or cushion for improved circulation.
• All necessary equipment and desk-materials should readily be accessible in order to limit how much a worker must reach or twist to reach an item. One of the worst moves for your back is bending over to the side while staying seated with your feet planted on the floor. Twisting your back in two directions at once may strain the cartilage-disks that cushion your spinal vertebrae. So, when turning from a seated position, it is best to be able to turn the hips and legs as well, so that the back and torso are not being repeatedly torqued, especially over and over to the same side (right or left side). A swivel chair is optimally suited for such turning without excessive twisting.
• Exercise at least three times a week, not just aerobically and for stretching but also especially for strength training, including strengthening of the important "core" muscles of the front, back and sides of the torso. These will help properly support the spine and render it less prone to stress, tension and injury. Frequent, regular exercise and good nutrition are also important for keeping off unneeded flabby weight around the mid-section. Studies show that overweight people are nearly three times as likely to go to the hospital with a back injury as those persons maintaining a healthy weight.
• People who feel overwhelmed with stress at work or home are more than twice as likely as calmer folks to suffer lower-back pain. Mental-emotional stress causes our muscles' smallest units, the muscle-fibers, to tighten up. Over time, such tightly clenched muscle fibers wear down, increasing our risk for injury. Deep relaxation therapy (e.g., Schultz Autogenic Training), self-hypnosis, meditation, yoga, t'ai chi ch'uan, warm showers, baths, saunas, and frequent massages (either from a masseuse or from a loved one), calming teas and herbs can really help ease the tension and stress here.
• For back and/or neck pain, a visit to the chiropractor, osteopath or neurologist might be in order if you suspect a problem with one or more vertebrae or disks. Such professionals can assess the state of your spine, back and neck, and make a mechanical adjustment to the spine, and have you yourself make any adjustments in posture, lifestyle, etc., needed to promote your well-being and lessen any tension or pain.
• Make sure that your bed's mattress isn't too soft and unsupportive or too hard and unduly pressuring the spine. If you can't afford a new mattress, buy a pad to cushion an extra-firm mattress, or, on the other extreme, place a bed board beneath the mattress if your bed is too soft.
• If you have current back pain, apply an ice pack (or even a frozen bag of peas) to reduce the inflammation caused by muscle tension, and, if needed, take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), which can relieve the pain and stiffness caused by a back injury. But don’t take these for more than 10 days consecutively. After approximately two days of icing the area, switch to a non-electric heating pad or one of the warming/heating gels or patches (Bengay cream, Tiger Balm ointment, heating skin-patches with menthol and/or camphor made by different companies) to reduce any tension or lingering pain. Acupuncturists can also help with any chronic or acute pain, too.
• For simple pain-causing tension in the neck, gentle stretches of the neck up and down and to the side are helpful. One can also allow gentle, slow "circles" of the neck/head from left to right and right to left, along with general stretches of the back and spine, forward, backward, and sidewards (left and right, both bending sidewards and turning sidewards). Also helpful here are "rolling" your shoulders up and down-- from a sideways view of your body, you can roll them clockwise several times, and then counter-clockwise (or vice versa). Another easy exercise is to raise one shoulder by contracting the trapezius muscle between the shoulder and neck and drop the other shoulder, lengthening that side's trapezius muscle; and then switch sides. It is also useful to slowly bendover at the waist and let the neck and head simply "hang" loose, gently stretching out the length of the upper vertebrae. In all matters, be gentle with your neck--no sudden or violent movements if possible.
• For the general health of the neck, one can abide by the martial art wisdom of China and Japan to "keep the shoulders low"--beware the insidious hunching of the shoulders, which pinches the muscles and nerves connecting to the neck and creates tension. This same principle applies when sitting at a table working or eating. If we put our arms or elbows up onto the table for long periods, it will tend to hunch our shoulders and lead to neck tension.
• For the uppermost part of the neck, where it joins the base of the skull, it is useful to have some gentle, healing therapeutic work performed by a cranial-sacral specialist, who can determine what is going on with the exquisite physiology of the cervical region of the spine as well as small bones and tissues adjacent on either side of the uppermost region of the spine and base of the skull. Such adjustments can seem very subtle and innocuous, but can have profound healing effects on one's overall physiology.
• If a job requires frequent phone-use, use the speaker feature. If not available or feasible (e.g., for privacy), use a headset or a shoulder-rest extension to prevent neck and back pain resulting from extended time-periods spent with the neck bent toward the phone.
• Situate your computer's video display screen at the right height relative to one's eyes and head, so that the screen can be read while the head is resting comfortably. Beware chronically stretching the neck forward to gaze at the screen. Use eye-glasses or contact lenses to better view the screen, if needed. (And see last section below on eyestrain.)
• Conventional wisdom for computer monitor height is that the top of the screen should be about at eye height. While this is fine for some people, it is wrong for many others. The current recommendation by ergonomic experts is that eye height is the highest a monitor should be, not necessarily the best height. Many people find a low monitor to be more comfortable for the eyes and neck.
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At work, the old "CW" or conventional wisdom upholds the idea of rest-breaks about 15 minutes long, every two hours or so, but this is not sufficient for single-task work such as typing. Research has provided better, newer wisdom which recommends that very short breaks be taken very frequently— e.g., 30-second breaks roughly every ten minutes. These should happen in addition to the normal 15-minute breaks every two hours.
Because the primate hand is designed for grasping, and because our human lifestyles generally involved a lot of manual grasping and holding (pens, eating utensils, steering wheels, briefcase handles, tv remote-control devices, etc.), the muscles of the hand are chronically being exercised in just one direction: inward. Over time, we can easily develop tension, cramps, bursitis, tendinitis, arthritis, or even carpal tunnel syndrome (especially if we are genetically prone to this narrowing of the carpal tunnel).
A simple remedy is to periodically counter the inward, grasping-clinging of the hand-muscles by doing the opposite: vigorously expand and stretch the hand and splay the fingers outward and backward, as if you were trying to grasp an object with the back of your hand and fingers. Just as we learned how a reverse arching of the lower back counters any chronic forward bending or curving of the lower back, so also with the hands: from time to time, work the hand muscles in the opposite direction to the chronic inward grasping.
You can also purchase an inexpensive "cat's paw" device made of foam rubber in the shape of a feline paw: you insert the ends of your fingers of one hand into the five little holes and then try to expand the fingers outwardly with the muscles of the back of your hand. You can achieve the same effect by using a rubber band around the back of your extended fingers, or you can simply do this: bring the ends of all the straightened fingers of your right hand together, and insert them into a "ring" formed by the meeting of your left hand's thumb-tip and middle-finger-tip. Then, while your left hand strongly maintains the ring-shape, try to expand your right-hand fingers outwardly.
There are other stresses on our hands and wrists, but, as in the case of caring for our back and neck, if we take care to maintain good posture, lessen tension, keep healthy circulation, and so forth, we can mitigate any painful conditions and restore healthy flow of blood and energy to the area. Such flow of blood and energy in the hands is also promoted by having the hands massaged (by ourselves or other persons) and also soaking them from time to time in a warm bath, perhaps with Epsom salts or other healing minerals, oils or balms. You can also just move the hands around during spare moments when they don't need to be used for any tasks. Bend the hand fully forward, backward (perhaps help the backward bend by gently pushing on the extended fingers with the palm of the other hand), and making "rolling" motions with the hands, pivoting around the wrist.
According to Chinese medical theory of subtle energy "ch'i" (Pinyin: "qi"), there are powerful meridian flows of this life-force energy throughout the body, ending in points on both sides of the hands and along the fingers, top, bottom, and, especially, the sides of the fingers (the same applies to the feet, see section below). One can take the fingers of one hand (or have a friend or professional acupressurist do it) and squeeze and rub these points of the other hand/wrist, along the fingers and on the palm and back of the hand/wrist. Then switch hands and do the same treatment. One can also purchase for several dollars those interesting little Chinese baoding balls or "therapy balls" usually hollow and made of chrome-plated steel, with most containing a chime inside-- and then roll these around in the hand, stimulating different acupressure points.
One very useful and relaxing, meditative practice is from time to time sit with the hands resting in the lap, palm up or down, and just sensitively, receptively feel the warmth and energy in the hands. Start with the left hand, feeling any/all sensations in the palm of the hand, back of the hand, and each of the segments of the thumb, forefinger, middle finger, ring finger, and little finger, finally feeling the diffused "global" energy in/around the left hand. Then switch inner attention to the right hand and do the same receptive sensing. Finally, allow a "deep sensing" or "connoisseur sensitivity" of the energy in both hands simultaneously. You can then move the hands in a gentle, spontaneously dancing "t'ai chi ch'uan" or "ch'i kung" (Pinyin: "qigong") manner, feeling the flow of subtle life-force energy (ch'i/qi) between the hands and streaming from the hands to other parts of your body. You can also use this subtle vital energy in/around the hands in a "laying on hands" caring attitude of beaming this healing energy toward other persons, animals, plants, and subtle-plane beings, near or far. In such application, the hands become like magical "wands of light" and conduits for tremendous healing energies for oneself and others.
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PAIN IN FEET
Our feet have the thankless task of supporting all our weight when we stand, walk, run, and the feet continue to take up some of the weight while we sit. Located far from the heart, they are, along with our lower legs and ankles, subject to poor circulation, especially after several decades of life and, if we're not active, too much sedentary existence.
It helps to elevate the feet and legs from time to time to help with circulation and "take the load off" our lower extremities. And, as with the hands, the feet hugely benefit from regular massages, either by self or others, and bathing-soaking in warm healing waters, perhaps mixed with various healing agents (Epsom salts or other minerals, balms, oils, etc.).
On the topic of foot-massages, the ancient Chinese science of reflexology applies here--for it is in the feet that all the meridian-currents of subtle energy find their "ground." So a good reflexology foot massage is not just stimulating and toning energy in the feet, but energies throughout the entire body as well.
A really helpful device at work or home is an inexpensive "acu-roller," usually made of wood, and easily kept under one's desk, where one can take off one's shoes and rub the soles of one's feet against the different shaped elements of the acu-roller to stimulate various muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and those ch'i-energy meridian points.
It should be obvious, but optimally supportive and healthy footwear is important for the health of our feet. This is an especially important point for women, who have been herded by "fashion leaders" into wearing shoes and sandals that are woefully unhealthy for the feet, ankles, legs and hips, either by unnaturally cramming the toes together into a point, or by raising women far too high on narrow stiletto points or overly high platform shoes. More enlightened fashion designers have designed shoes for women (and men) that properly support the raised arches of the feet while also allowing both good contact with the ground through the soles of the shoes as well as absorbent cushioning to the balls, heels, toes and other anatomical parts of the feet.
And good ol' Dr. Scholl's has for decades been making various kinds of cushioned insoles to insert into our footwear for added gentle support and "shock absorber" relief for those of us who must spend long hours standing or walking on our feet.
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PAIN IN HIPS, LEGS
These areas of the body may not be prone to as much pain in the general population as other more vulnerable parts of our anatomy, but a sedentary lifestyle can, over time, take its toll. Elevating the feet from time to time will, of course, also benefit the lower legs in terms of better circulatory flow of blood and energy.
Daily walking is one of the very best exercises for both hips and legs. Remember here that our species has an ancient history of moving around a lot, especially walking long distances. Why try to mess with this evolutionary history by becoming stuck sitting or standing in one place for too long? The interesting thing about walking is that the rhythmic bilateralism of legs and arms swinging forward in alternating patterns is bi-laterally also stimulating our twin brain hemispheres. Movements by muscles on our body's left side stimulate the right-brain hemisphere, and vice versa. If we further learn to synchronize the inbreaths and outbreaths with our walking gait (say, four steps for every inhalataion, four steps with every exhalation, with four steps between the in- and out-breaths and out- and in-breaths), we have all the elements for a very powerful "walking meditation" to energize, refine, tone and heal our physiology.
In addition to benefits from walking, our legs and hips and the rest of our somatic systems can hugely benefit from an array of aerobic and calisthenic exercises. These best include gentler low-impact activities like swimming, cycling and stationary cycling, and jumping on a mini-trampoline (this last item should be a staple of every home and office, given the added benefit to the lymphatic system of such gentle jumping up and down), as well as higher-impact exercises like jumping jacks, running in place, and running or jogging (preferably on a more absorbent surface like grass or sand rather than asphault or cement). One must be careful with the higher-impact exercises because these can lead over time to stress fractures if not performed with elegant form, or with inferior footwear, but higher-impact exercise stimulates bone-growth, and is a good antidote to developing osteoporosis.
Stretching of the large muscles of the legs and hips is a must. A variety of stretches for all the muscles in all primary directions are available--consult any good book or guide in the field of yoga or physical fitness on specific movements.
As with the back, so also the legs and hips benefit from frequent getting out of any sedentary sitting posture for too long. Just strolling around one's workplace (or home), combined with some knee-lifts, leg-lifts, hip abductor and adductor exercises, etc., can work wonders and prevent the hips and legs from getting "frozen" with inactivity.
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A headache (cephalalgia) is an all-too-common occurrence, with the vast majority of headaches benign, sooner or later passing on their own, especially after a nap, sleep or meditation. Common causes are stress, tension, dehydration (not enough fluids), low blood sugar (beware the spikes and crashes to blood-sugar levels from sugary junk food), allergies (including allergies to certain foods), sinusitis colds, or problems with alignment of the neck and back. A significant percentage of women's headaches are hormonal, caused by fluctuating estrogen during their menstrual years. This can occur before or even during midcycle menstruation.
Thankfully far less common are headaches caused by life-threatening conditions like ultra-high blood pressure, meningitis, encephalitis, brain tumors, and cerebral aneurysms (which can kill a person within minutes). Beware of any headaches that come from a blow to the head, or involve loss of consciousness, confusion, convulsions, stiffness of neck, fevers, associated pain in the eye or ear, or a persistent headache in someone with no prior history of headaches.
All the health tips on this page about nutrition (including sufficient hydration with pure water), deep breathing, bodily movement, blood-flow, rest and sleep, etc. will help prevent the occurrence of headaches.
How, specifically, does our head ache? The head has several areas that can feel pain. One is the network of nerves extending over the scalp and certain nerves in the face, mouth, and throat. The meninges and blood vessels have pain receptors, and headaches often result from contraction or irritation of the meninges and blood vessels. The dura mater membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord has pain receptors or nociceptors. Adverse stimulation of these dural nociceptors can produce headaches. Likewise, the small muscles of the head may be sensitive to pain. The brain itself has no pain receptors.
Headaches can be divided most basically into two kinds: Primary headaches are not associated with or caused by other diseases. Examples of primary headaches are tension headaches, migraine headaches, and cluster headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by an associated disease, either minor or serious and life-threatening.
Another classification schema considers five types of headache: myogenic (muscle tension), vascular, cervicogenic, traction and inflammatory.
• Myogenic headaches involve tensing or tightening of muscles in the face and neck muscles, which can radiate up into the forehead region. The tension headache is the most common form of myogenic headache; as many as 90% of adults have had or will have tension headaches, and they are more common among women; the pain is generally milder than other forms of headache, and usually bilateral (both sides of the head).
• Of vascular headaches, the most usual is the migraine, mainly characterized by severe, throbbing pain for 4 to 72 hours on usually one side of the head (only one-third of migraines involve both sides), and the other side of the head is then affected by the next migraine attack. Other symptoms of migraines include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, facial pallor, cold hands, cold feet, sensitivity to light and sound--evidence of a "fight or flight" response by an aroused sympathetic nervous system. Triggers for migraine include stress, sleep disturbances, fasting (low blood-sugar levels), hormones, bright or flickering lights, odors, cigarette smoke, alcohol, aged cheeses, chocolate, monosodium glutamate, nitrites, aspartame, and caffeine. For some women, the decline in estrogen during the onset of menstruation is a trigger. The interval between exposure to a trigger and the onset of a migraine varies from hours to two days. For some migraine sufferers, vision is disturbed by an "aura" of flashing colored lights. The migraine is often preceded by warning signals (sleepiness, irritability, depression or euphoria, craving for sweet/salty foods, etc.). In a migraine, the temporal artery near the temple on the outside of the skull is enlarged, with consequent inflammation caused by stretching of the nerves coiled around the artery. It is the second most common type of primary headache, with roughly 30 million people in the USA experiencing migraines, adults and children; after puberty, more women (18%) than men (6%) are affected by migraines. The next most common type of vascular headache is the "toxic" headache produced by a fever. Another type of vascular headache: cluster headaches. These are recurrent (once or twice daily for weeks or months, separated by pain-free periods of months or years), short (30 to 90 minutes long) and severe ("like a hot poker"), often located through or around the eye, and often waking up the sufferer every night at the same time. Thankfully, cluster headaches affect only 0.1% of the population, but fully 85% of these sufferers are men, with an average age of 28-30 years old.
• As their name indicates, cervicogenic headaches originate from neck disorders, including anatomical regions ennervated by the C1–C3 vertebrae, and often are triggered by certain neck movements and/or sustained awkward head positioning.
• Traction headaches and inflammatory headaches are symptoms of other disorders, ranging from sinus infections to life-threatening strokes.
Many headaches from non-life-threatening causes such as stress and tension can be naturally eased by sensitively feeling the pain--notice exactly where in the head you feel the pain (front, front-left, front-right, etc.), and exactly how it feels (cold, hot, acute, dull ache, etc.)--there may not even be a word for the sensations you experience, but the point is to really get in touch with where/how you feel the pain. In a sense, one is making the momentarily arising pain-sensations "the object of meditation," and one meditatively becomes one with the pain. The sense of being the separate "victim" or "target" of the pain vanishes, and there is just a sense of being an open field of energy-vibrations that include the shimmering, humming pain sensations. Happily, often just a minute or two of bringing our healing power of awareness to the pain and becoming fully one with the pain-sensations will allow better flow of blood, nutrients and energy, and the headache then lifts on its own through the self-healing power of the body aided by awareness.
If one doesn't have the time to sit meditatively "being the pain vibrations" until they subside, one can opt for treating a headache with over-the-counter painkillers like aspirin, paracetamol (acetaminophen), or ibuprofen. Yet some headaches, like migraines, may require other, more suitable medical or pharmaceutical treatment. As with all medications, be aware of their possible major and minor side-effects.
More naturally, regular doses of the supplements magnesium, Vitamin B2, and Coenzyme Q10 have shown efficacy in scientific trials for migraine prevention. Anything that calms a person down and reduces stress can help migraines and tension headaches. Meditation and biofeedback have been very helpful for migraines. In biofeedback, clients are taught to warm their hands by consciously directing more blood into circulation there. Because of the wondrous interconnections of the body, when the hands warm, the parasympathetic nervous system over-rides the "fight or flight" sympathetic nervous system, and the migraine pain greatly subsides or even completely vanishes.
Specifically for migraines, the following are recommended by scientific experts:
• Go to sleep and waking up at the same time each day to normalize one's circadian rhythms.
• Exercise regularly (daily if possible), even when traveling or during busy periods at work. Exercise can improve the quality of sleep and reduce the frequency and severity of migraine headaches. But beware over-exertion, especially if not physically fit, for this can trigger migraines.
• Don't skip meals, avoid prolonged fasting.
• Prevent or reduce stress through regular exercise and relaxation and meditation techniques.
• Limit caffeine consumption to less than two caffeine-containing beverages a day.
• Avoid bright or flashing lights and wear sunglasses if sunlight is a trigger.
• Identify and avoid foods that trigger headaches by keeping a headache and food diary. It may be impractical to adopt a diet free of all known migraine triggers, but one can avoid foods that consistently trigger migraine headaches.
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Any eye discomfort in the form of burning, tightness, sharp or dull pains, watering, blurring, double vision, or headaches caused by viewing something is eyestrain.
At a workstation, the chief culprits of eyestrain are:
• too big a difference in luminance (brightness) between what is being looked at and its immediate surrounding environment
• too little light
• improper distance between the eye and the computer display screen or printed document
• the readability of the screen and document
• the worker's own impaired vision and any obsolete corrective lenses
Hence, solutions to eyestrain will involve the following strategies:
Beware direct glare from small, intense light sources shining directly into the eyes—ceiling lights, task lights, or bright windows or the sun. To gauge the degree of direct glare, briefly shield your eyes with your hand and notice whether you feel immediate relief. Try to "broaden and thus soften" your light sources the way portrait photographers do so with human models. For instance, a bright task light can be bounced off a nearby wall or partition screen to create a larger, softer light source.
Smoothe out strong contrasts between what you are visually focusing on and its immediate visual surroundings. At night, this may mean turning on some ambient background light to supplement any light from a computer monitor or a bright task-light.
If reading, the right amount of general light in the room will depend on your age, the quality of the print-matter, etc. There should be plenty of light for easy reading, but too much can, depending on the person, cause eyestrain.
We learn from the article "A Dozen Things You Should Know about Eyestrain" at www.office-ergo.com/12things1.htm (from which the above points are adapted and expanded upon):
"Eyes are strained more by close viewing than by distant viewing. The 'right' distance for computer monitors and documents depends entirely on how clearly they can be read at a given distance. The general rule is to keep viewed material as far away as possible, provided it can be read easily. [Emphases added.]
"If you gaze at something too long, your eyes can tire. Eyes need to focus at different distances from time to time. It's a good idea to follow the '20/20 rule'-- every twenty minutes, look twenty feet away for twenty seconds.
"If two objects are only a couple of inches different in their distance from the eyes, the eyes actually do NOT have to refocus to look from one to another. Greater distance differences, however, can overwork the eyes if you have to look from one object to another frequently-- as when typing from printed copy and looking at the screen. In general, keep viewed objects at about the same distance if you have to look back and forth a lot....
"Sometimes eyestrain is just a case of dry eyes. Lowering the monitor can help. Looking downward means more of the eye surface is covered by the eyelid, and two other things happen: the eyes unconsciously blink more, and they produce more lubrication."
On this last point, make sure that you are drinking enough water.
In general, the eyes are helped by anything that relaxes the face muscles, such as Autogenic Training (Schulz's old method of feeling-suggesting "heaviness and warmth" in each of the regions of the body), deep stillness or meditation practices. One can also put warm compresses over the eyes while reclining for a very healing, restorative effect.
Finally, one can enjoyably try out a "sensory awareness" meditation for healing eyestrain: with the eyes either open or (preferably) closed, just "mindfully" notice various sensations in and around the eyesocket of each eye-- just notice and deeply feel whatever sensations are arising in different regions of each eyesocket--inside and outside corners of the eye, lower and upper eyelids, the tiny fine muscles associated with the eye's and eyelid's and eyebrow's movements, and any sensations of warmth, tingling, blood flow, pressure or vibration. Very enjoyable and very relaxing, as the eyestrain and fatigue, through the healing power of mindful, sensitive Awareness, subsides and yields to a deep calm, peace, serenity and wellness! One can easily take out 30 to 90 seconds every hour to let go any eyestrain for the sake of "eye-wellness" in this way.
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