Headaches in Children:
What to do about it
Headaches in children can be very disconcerting. The child often doesn't understand the pain and often has difficulty describing the headache. I have found that it can often be from dehydration. This is always a good place to start, and that is where I start with my children. Fortunately, most headaches in children are harmless, though annoying. You should seek medical advice if you notice any of the following:
- new severe headache that gets progressively worse
- headache after falling on or hitting head
- headache with stiff neck and fever
- headache with vomiting and/or visual changes
If the child does not have any of these warning signs, you can try a few things to help them out.
Dehydration, Children, and Headaches
Children need to be drinking at least half their body weight in ounces of water per day, so if a child is 40 lbs, he or she should be drinking at least 20 oz of water, or two and a half glasses of water per day. They should also have some salt on their food and should not be drinking any caffeinated beverages, as the caffeine robs water from their growing bodies. I know it is hard to get kids to drink enough water, so sometimes I will squeeze a little lemon or lime in the water a put a couple drops of stevia in it to tempt them to drink it. My kids love it! Stevia is a natural sweetener extracted from an herb that has been used for 500 years in South America without ill effect. You can find at your local health food store and since you only need a few drops at a time, it lasts quite a while.
Sometimes headaches happen from children squinting all the time to see... maybe they need glasses, especially if it seems to happen more during or after school. You can do a quick screen of their far-sight by printing this vision chart and having them try to read it from 20 feet away. They should be able to read to the 5th line. If they are unable to, get them checked soon, as this kind of tension creates trigger points and headaches. This screen is not a substitute for an eye exam from a professional, as it is only checking one aspect of their vision.
Trigger points can cause Headaches in Children
Children get trigger points just like adults. If the water isn't enough, check all the same muscles that you check on adults, depending on where their headache is. Use the page on headaches types to find their pain pattern and the trigger points that cause them. I use the more gentle trigger point pressure release method on kids.
Make sure they are not getting bad posture habits... it starts young sometimes! Posture principles are roughly the same for children as adults. Check here for more on posture.
Book bags cause headaches in children
This deserves its own category, because it is such a universal problem. Please advocate for your kids on this, because otherwise they may end up with lifelong headaches and back pain! Kids should not be carrying more than 9% of their body weight on their back. It can cause long term posture problems and immediate pain, and most definitely headaches! Remember, the younger they are, the more cartilage they have in their bones. Weigh the bag on a typical day with all their books in it and make sure it does not exceed 9% of their body weight. If it does, try to work something out with the school where they keep a copy of some of their books at home and another one in their locker, or photocopy the needed pages for each week. I did an experiment in high school and found it to be a problem even there, so I can't imagine what it is like for elementary students. When the bag is too heavy, the student tends to lean forward and jut their chin, which puts a strain on the sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and makes them lift their shoulders, stressing the upper trapezius muscle, both of which are primary headache generators.
Check out the Headache Type page for more information on where the headaches could be coming from.
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