Saturday, March 12, 2011

Taming Headaches

Tweaking Life and Work Environments

I have had severe headaches all my adult life.  There were years when I only had a couple of migraine episodes per year and years when I averaged three to five migraines a week.  My migraines ceased after I had a hysterectomy but the current headache condition I have (called hemicrania continua) has been with me 24/7 since 2007.  I have a few tricks or life modifications that have helped me manage my life with headaches and sometimes mitigate the pain a bit or appease The Headache before it roars into all consuming pain.

Because I am very short and I work in offices and at home on computers at desks not designed for very short people I try to make sure my work environment is ergonomically correct.  Putting stress on my arms, shoulders, neck and legs from sitting in a chair that is too high off the floor for my feet to touch or a desk surface I have to reach unnaturally for the keyboard or mouse creates an unhealthy environment for The Headache.

I use some basic guidelines when arranging my workspace. As a rule for persons without bifocal or trifocal glasses your eyes should always be straight across from the top one third of your computer monitor.  If you have bifocals or trifocals and you do NOT have to focus on the desk top and back on the screen I suggest getting single vision glasses at the strength you need to see the computer monitor.  This way you will not be tipping your head back to see with your higher strength lenses and putting strain on your neck and shoulders.  You can also have "computer bifocals" specially made for working with monitors. Instead of having a very small bifocal area ground into the lens where you have to look down through that area to use the magnification these have large bifocal areas with the line for the bifocal almost in the center of the lens.  Coated or colored lenses can help if you have light sensitive eyes.  Another quick and inexpensive fix for multi focal lens wearers is to put your computer monitor up on a large phone book or monitor riser so you can look through the bifocals without having to hold your head at an uncomfortable angle.

I avoid working in the dark with a computer or even watching television in the dark.  Even just a smidgen of low level lighting helps me avoid the high contrast issues I have with a lighted surface floating in darkness.  For some reason The Headache becomes very annoyed with extremely high contrast lighted surfaces in a dark environment.

I make sure my feet are not dangling and that I am not slumped in my chair while using a keyboard or computer.  I also make sure my hands and forearms are as close to ninety degrees from my body as possible when working at a desk surface, using a mouse, or keyboarding.  I also make sure that I keep my hands properly aligned with my keyboard and keep my wrists elevated.  In order to keep my feet from dangling I often have to have a step stool or a support for my feet because of my short stature.  Even if my chair went closer to the floor then my eyes and arms would not be correctly aligned with the computer, so supporting my feet is much more practical.  This reduces body fatigue and stress on the back and arms.

I segment tasks (even tasks like sweeping the floor or doing laundry) so I can work at headache friendly intervals.  Exercise is an enormous trigger for The Headache so I have learned that physical exertion in thirty minute segments or less is optimal.  My sister is a sweetheart and helps out occasionally so I can get household chores caught up, otherwise it just keeps piling up with me chipping away at it bit by bit.  At work I try to arrange my work in segments where I can stop and rest both my body and my eyes.

Fluorescent lighting can be an issue.  Sometimes I have had half the fluorescent bulbs removed in a room so the light is less intense.  There are covers you can purchase that will selectively filter the light in each fluorescent bulb.  There are diffusers that fit in the fluorescent fixtures that focus the light directly downward (task oriented lighting) instead of the most common ones that spread the light throughout the room.  Using incandescent lights where possible also reduces the fluorescent glare.  Coated lenses or colored glasses can help with this also.  Visors help also, creating a shadowed area in the upper area of your face.

My worst problem at work is odor.  Food odors from the break room, scented candles, hot laser printer toner, perfume or colognes used by coworkers, soaps in the bathrooms, air fresheners, and even car exhaust fumes going to or from work are big issues.  I can block out noise by using ear plugs, but nose plugs are uncomfortable and just not stylish.  I avoid the smelliest rooms but in a small office odors carry.  I guess it wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't so nauseated most of the time!  I use mentholated rubs under my nose sometimes to cover up the other odors but then unfortunately I smell like mentholated rubs.  Maybe some reader out there can give me a tip on this!  I certainly can use some!

I have been lucky in having employers who were cooperative in creating a headache friendly workspace.  Hoping that you can find a trick or two in this post that will assist you in creating a space where your head likes to stay!

Off subject, but worrying about the extended family of a coworker whose mother is from Japan. He said his mom had been trying to reach relatives in Japan to make sure they have not been hurt in the earthquake/tsunami but had been unable to get through. Praying that they are all OK and out of harms way.

Hoping everyone will be having a pain free weekend and a great week next week!


  1. Oooooo I enjoyed reading these tips and how they help you and could benefit others Winny. Appreciate you sharing. Hugs to you always....

  2. JBR: Thanks! Hoping you have a headache free weekend my friend!

  3. I really enjoyed reading this; great tips! I too, am pretty short and often have issues with ergonomics because of that. The foot rest is a good idea.

    The only thing I can suggest for the odor issue is possibly coffee beans or ground coffee. Perfume counters often have a canister of these to neutralize the perfume odors when you are smelling a bunch of them and then can't tell them apart. You take a whiff and it "resets" your nose. I don't know if coffee odor would be headache-inducing as well, but maybe it might make it a bit less intense?

    We don't have a break room in our office and our microwaves are in the open kitchenette area right off the main office area. I can always smell what people are cooking!

  4. Heather - great idea on the ground coffee. I will bring some to work and see if it helps. At least I will smell like Starbucks instead of an old person like I do with the Menthol.

    There is one very tall lady at work, and then there is very short me. It hurts her back to put things on lower shelves and I have to get a step stool for me to get supplies she put on the upper shelves. No winning for persons at the extremes of height!!!

  5. I'm glad to hear you've figured out some things to help you... I haven't been formally diagnosed but I've been living with a permanent headache since about 1990. No pain relief periods. I can't even imagine trying to hold down a job with this; you're fortunate you've gotten enough control to do so!

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know there's a permanent headache group on Facebook for those of us with HC, but also other chronic pain conditions:

    1. Thank you Melanie, I appreciate your comment. I gripe about having this thing since 2007!!!

      I have asked to join your group, my facebook name is Emily Field (winnyninnypoopoo). I also belong to a chronic migraine group, and another hemicrainia continua group that is at: