health numbers

Illustration: Libby Vanderploeg

The Best Thing to Do for Migraine Pain

Nearly one in four women between the ages of 18 and 44 has experienced a migraine in the past three months, according to one study. Yet many women, not realizing what they're dealing with (a migraine often involves intense throbbing on only one side of the head), treat the pain like a really bad headache. You're more likely to feel relief if you use a targeted approach. Here's how to handle a skull buster:

Tuck your chin. Neck pain has been found to be a more common symptom of migraines than nausea, according to a 2010 study. "It's one reason why migraines go untreated by patients: They assume that the neck pain is just part of a general tension-type headache," says MaryAnn Mays, MD, a headache specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. When a migraine strikes, she recommends doing simple chin tucks—move your head toward your chest and hold the position for about ten seconds, release, then repeat.

Don't ignore allergies. "Almost half the migraine patients I see also have allergies," says Mays. "We suspect that allergies cause nerve inflammation and the release of chemicals like histamines that can trigger a migraine." Take your allergy meds, and if that doesn't work, consider shots: Research suggests that women ages 18 to 45 who get them will see a 52 percent reduction in migraine frequency compared with those who don't.

Try magnesium. This mineral supplement is recommended by the American Headache Society—and may be particularly helpful to those who experience aura or have migraines associated with their menstrual cycle, Mays says. One small study found that taking 600 milligrams per day reduced headache frequency by roughly 42 percent at the end of 12 weeks.
chronic back pain

Illustration: Libby Vanderploeg

The Best Thing to Do for Back Pain

Lower back pain afflicts roughly 30 percent of American women at any given time. Here, three main reasons you may be feeling the ache—and how to stop it.

Problem: You're sitting at a desk all day. "When you lean forward for an extended period, you can create chronic pressure on your lower back and spine," says orthopedist Robert Gotlin, DO, of Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital in New York City.
Solve it: Consider a standing desk, which helps keep your core and back muscles engaged. Not your thing? Take a walk. Hoofing it two or three times a week for 20 to 40 minutes at a time can be as effective as physical therapy in easing lower back pain, according to one study.

Problem: You have weak stomach muscles. "If you don't have strong abs, your lower back is left to support the weight of your core, which can lead to painful strain," says Gotlin.
Solve it: Daily planks strengthen back muscles and, more important, require you to use muscles deep in the abdomen as well as the ones in your hips and shoulders. Lie facedown on the floor and align your elbows directly under your shoulders, wrists in line with elbows. Contract your abs and glutes to lift your hips and knees off the floor. Hold for as long as you can. Repeat three to five times, increasing your hold time each day.

Problem: You have a herniated disc. These soft, rubbery pads found between the vertebrae in your spinal column act as shock absorbers. As you age, their jellylike centers push out and occasionally rupture.
Solve it: You'll need to see a doctor to confirm the diagnosis, even though in many cases the pain will go away with rest and anti-inflammatories. Ice can help, and certain stretches may also move the disc away from the nerve. Try this: Lie on your back on the floor, lift one leg, and bring your knee in to your chest. Hold for five seconds, then do the other leg. Repeat ten times.
knee pain

Illustration: Libby Vanderploeg

The Best Thing to Do for Knee Pain

Roughly one in five adults reports experiencing knee pain, according to the Institute of Medicine. "A common cause is patellofemoral pain, or stress on the kneecap, due to either too much activity or a sudden increase in activity," says Robert Marx, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. A few fixes:

Pop curcumin. The Indian spice is a potent anti-inflammatory. One 2014 study found curcumin extract was just as effective as ibuprofen in treating knee pain. Marx recommends 500 milligrams two or three times per day.

Flex your muscles. "To take pressure off your knee joints, you need to strengthen all the muscles in your lower body," says Marx. Try this move: Stand on the bottom step of a staircase (ideally nine inches high), facing downward, and lower your right leg 20 times, just barely brushing the floor with your heel. As you bring the leg back up, contract your glutes. Switch sides and repeat.

Shed the stilettos. Wearing heels that are one and a half inches or higher may prematurely age knee joints and increase osteoarthritis risk. Can't kick the habit? Mix in flats as much as possible.
joint pain

Illustration: Libby Vanderploeg

The Best Thing to Do for Joint Pain

We're wearing out our joints faster than ever: Over the previous decade, knee replacement surgeries increased by a staggering 120 percent, and hip replacements shot up 73 percent—with much of the increase among people younger than 65—according to studies presented at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' 2014 annual meeting. "People are heavier than they used to be a generation or two ago, and as a result, our joints have to handle much more pressure than they were designed to," says Howard Smith, MD, a rheumatologist and osteoarthritis specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. Stave off further damage starting now:

Lose weight. Of course, the more heft you have, the more pressure—and damage—you do to your joints. But that's not the only reason to lighten up: "Research shows that obesity is associated with osteoarthritis even in joints not directly affected by extra pounds, like those in your hands," says Smith. "We believe that chemicals released by fat tissue, such as cytokines, may cause inflammation in the body and break down joint cartilage, contributing to osteoarthritis."

Take Chondroitin. This over-the-counter supplement—of a substance that occurs naturally in the body's cartilage—was more successful than a prescription drug in reducing the progression of knee osteoarthritis when subjects took 1,200 milligrams daily, according to a 2015 study.

Increase your exercise intensity. When your joints hurt, the last thing you want to do is pound the pavement, but high-impact exercise, like jumping, actually slows cartilage breakdown in postmenopausal women with mild knee osteoarthritis when implemented progressively, reports a small 2015 Finnish study. Intense exercise increases blood flow to joints and also releases endorphins, both of which help reduce pain.
neck pain

Illustration: Libby Vanderploeg

The Best Thing to Do for Neck Pain

Neck pain is often due to muscle strain, and it's seen among people who spend long hours hunched over a computer or a phone. Sound familiar? Try these remedies:

Look up! Physical therapists are treating more and more patients complaining of "text neck," and for good reason: When you keep your neck and upper back in an awkward position for a prolonged period to text, you can cause muscle strain and spasms, says Mary Ann Wilmarth, a physical therapist in Boston.

Put a pin in it. People who underwent an average of ten 50-minute acupuncture sessions, along with traditional treatments such as physical therapy and pain meds, reported almost one-third less neck pain after a year, according to a 2015 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. (Those who stuck to PT and meds alone experienced a 23 percent reduction in discomfort.)

Get your vision checked. Many women and men eventually develop presbyopia (blurred near vision), usually in their mid-40s; untreated, it can cause neck pain because you're straining to see. If you find you're holding books or newspapers at arm's length, visit your eye doctor. Once you get reading glasses, the problem should go away quickly.

Keep Reading