- One in 10 young people in the US experiences recurrent headaches.
- One in 3 young people ages 10 to 17 who regularly experience headaches are turning to some type of “natural” or integrative medical therapy, which consists of the use of conventional, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for prevention and treatment.
What are your responsibilities as a parent when considering a natural therapy for your child?
If you are exploring natural therapies to treat your child’s headaches, it is important for you to educate yourself fully on the pros and cons of each approach and discuss the options thoroughly with your child’s pediatrician before you take any action.
Mind and Body Approaches:
- Massage therapy may be helpful for a child with chronic daily headaches and includes a variety of techniques in which practitioners manipulate the soft tissues of the body. Massage therapy can be used in conjunction with a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management, and avoidance of headache triggers. There are relatively few side effects when massage is performed by a trained practitioner, but its use should be discussed with the child’s pediatrician to be sure they know every therapy your child is receiving.
- Acupuncture may also benefit a child with headaches. This ancient Chinese remedy involves a practitioner inserting thin needles through the skin, which releases endorphins, and reduces the perception of pain. Treatment usually occurs one or two times a week for 4 to 6 weeks. There are few side effects and many children tolerate acupuncture well with a practitioner trained in treating children. Due to needle insertion, rarely mild bleeding and bruising can be seen. Infection is very rare.
- Biofeedback is one of the treatments researched most extensively for migraines. It measures body functions so that the child can learn to control them. For example, a biofeedback device may show tension in a child’s neck muscles in the back of the head that are causing the headaches. By watching how these measurements change, the child becomes more aware of when his or her muscles are tense and learns to relax them. Several biofeedback programs and devices are available in clinics or at medical centers, but also available for home use. Biofeedback is generally safe to use and does not have any harmful side effects.
- Guided imagery, self-hypnosis, or relaxation can be helpful for preventing headaches. Children are often great at this technique, as it uses their imagination and mental images to promote relaxation. Some pediatricians are trained in these relaxation skills or may refer you to another trained practitioner who work with your child.
Dietary Supplements for Headache Prevention:
Certain nutritional and herbal dietary supplements have been studied for prevention or decreasing the pain that comes with headaches. All dietary supplements should be discussed with the child’s pediatrician before use.
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Riboflavin is a B-vitamin that may reduce the number of headaches and pain. Rare side effects may include diarrhea, increased amount of urination, and yellowish discoloration of urine.
- Magnesium supplements may also help reduce the number of headaches if taken for several months. Magnesium deficiency is related to factors that promote headaches. Teens who get migraines may have lower levels of magnesium in their bodies than those who do not. The typical diet of an American teenager may be deficient in magnesium-rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts, and whole grains. Magnesium supplements can cause diarrhea and may interact with some medications. They should be used only under the supervision of your child’s pediatrician.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant present in each cell of our bodies; however, it was found to be deficient in one third of children with migraines. Taken as a dietary supplement, it may help lower the frequency of headaches. It is generally well-tolerated by children without significant side effects. Rare and mild GI symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and heartburn have occurred.
- Butterbur is an herb extract that may reduce the number and severity of migraine headaches. The most common side effects include fatigue, belching, nausea, diarrhea, heartburn, itchy eyes or skin, and allergic reaction for those children allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds or daisies. Raw butterbur contains chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). PAs can damage the liver and kidneys and result in serious illness. Only butterbur products that are certified as PA-free should be used.
A Final Reminder:
If you’ve made the decision to seek a natural therapy for your child’s headaches, it is of utmost importance to involve your child’s pediatrician in the process. He or she may also be able to assist in evaluating your child’s response to that treatment.