Integrative Medicine: New Hope For Chronic Headache Sufferers

drpolaharDorothy E. Polahar, DO, DABFM, is board certified in family medicine. She has training in integrative medicine, functional medicine, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine and a Master’s in athletic training and sports medicine. She practices at the Inova Integrative and Functional Medicine. Read Dr. Polahar’s profile.


Chronic headaches are unfortunately quite common – and all too often, traditional medicine fails to provide relief. The good news is, my colleagues and I have had a lot of success treating headaches with integrative medicine.

What Is Integrative Medicine?

People who suffer from chronic headaches have often tried a lot of doctors and a lot of drugs, with little or no relief. Integrative medicine combines Western medicine with the best of traditional medical cultures. We draw from treatments such as herbal practices, traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, which originated in India thousands of years ago.

By combining philosophies from around the world, we have many more options to choose from when treating patients with chronic headaches.

shutterstock_100429237Step-By-Step Treatment

Recently, I treated a patient who suffered from chronic daily headaches, topped off with occasional but severe migraines. She took prescription medicine and Tylenol everyday but was still suffering.

First, we eased her off Tylenol. People often don’t realize that anti-inflammatories can actually trigger rebound headaches when they wear off. Then, we used osteopathic manipulation to ease the tightness in her neck and shoulders.

While the big, bad migraines stopped, she still experienced moderately painful daily headaches. Next, we tested her for food sensitivity. We found she had low-grade sensitivities to gluten, soy and dairy. She cut those foods from her diet and over the next few weeks, her pain disappeared.

Options and Hope

Western medicine typically teaches us that headaches come in different varieties, each with their own unique cause. Tension headaches are one thing, migraines are another. But I find it’s often not so black and white. When people suffer from chronic headaches, headache types and triggers often overlap.

Using integrative medicine, we look at the whole picture to explore all possible causes of headache, from musculoskeletal problems to food sensitivities. And we use a wide spectrum of treatments, including integrative nutrition, medical acupuncture, exercise and stretching.

So many people with chronic headaches have tried and failed to find a solution for their pain. Often, they’ve practically given up and don’t even mention their headaches to doctors anymore. I want them to know that we have a lot of options at our disposal – and a lot of reason for hope.

To make an appointment, visit the Inova Integrative and Functional Medicine.

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