How I Cured Cluster Headaches (and Discovered What Causes Them)

Everyone in this world suffers. They all just suffer differently.

Likewise, the suffering is stratified not only be degree, but by type. Suffering can be emotional, psychological, sociological, or physical. And each of these categories is a spectrum. I cannot begin to claim that I know what the worst of it is. I can maybe identify what the worst has been for me.

And the worst thing I have suffered, in my entire existence, is a medical condition called cluster headaches.

But perhaps you know them by their colloquial name: suicide headaches.

A Lethal Disease

It has been speculated, by some, that cluster headaches are the most painful medical condition known to man. I have a hard time repeating that claim since, as I have stated, human suffering is a multifaceted subject.

But I would not be surprised if, after humans discover a way to objectively and empirically measure pain, the claim turned out to be true.

Because, having suffered countless cluster headaches since my mid twenties, I can tell you that no other pain I have ever experienced even approaches the nightmare that is a cluster headache. Before encountering my first one, I was unaware that such levels of pain could exist. I could not have imagined what they were like, even if you had described them to me.

Artist’s rendition of a cluster headache.

And the intensity of their pain is matched only by their rarity. It’s estimated that only one fifth of one percent of people will ever suffer a cluster headache. When I try to talk about them on social media, I get countless replies telling me to “just be sure to drink lots of fluids” or “have you tried Advil?”

This nonchalance is not limited to laymen. Very little professional research has been undertaken to understand or treat cluster headaches. Their extreme rarity means there is little profit to be had in discovering effective treatments.

You’d think such a famously painful medical condition would elicit greater sympathy. Women who have experienced cluster headaches insist they are worse than childbirth. And I can personally attest that they are orders of magnitude more painful than kidney stones.

Perhaps the apathy experienced by cluster headache sufferers is a contributor to their high rate of suicide. Someone going through a cluster headache would pay any price to be rid of it, and even the most extreme options start to become attractive when other people think your life-ending pain is caused by your neglect to drink enough fluids.

It’s a tragic situation, made even more tragic by the fact that cluster headaches are curable.

I know because I cured them.

My Past Efforts

When in the throes of a cluster headache, you don’t have the luxury of mental escapism. You can think of literally nothing else except for the pain that now rules your entire conscious experience. And so it happened that, during one particularly nasty cluster, I decided I would use that monstrous focus to think up a permanent solution to my problem.

I wrote about this before, almost two years ago. I ended up curing that cluster just by straightening my neck and staring at the ceiling. I called this “the skywriting method” and asked other sufferers to try it.

It worked for some of them, but not others.

And when I tried it again, during a cluster in December of 2021, I found the skywriting method to be insufficient.

But I knew that the principle behind it must be sound. I decided to keep experimenting in the same direction, assuming that the skywriting method was merely a specialized case of the overall cure. Obviously, another similar method was the correct answer.

I now have that answer.

What Causes Cluster Headaches?

Cluster headaches are caused by cervical compression in the neck.

This contradicts the small body of research that already exists on cluster headaches in the medical community. Many neurologists believe the headaches are caused by a misfiring nerve in the brain. A common (though extreme) treatment is to install a kind of pacemaker in the brain that resets this nerve. And that treatment has been shown to work.

Nevertheless, I stand by my statement. Cluster headaches are caused by cervical compression in the neck. Any other cause is downstream from that cervical compression. And correcting that compression will resolve those other issues.

How I Arrived at This Conclusion

Cluster headaches are not my only medical condition. One summer a few years ago, I also suffered a bout of cubital tunnel syndrome.

I got it from balancing my smartphone on my pinky finger as I browsed the internet for hours on end. The bad posture required for this balancing put great strain on my elbow, and the resulting inflammation starting pinching a nerve there.

But the pain didn’t occur in my elbow. It manifested instead on the outside half of my hand. This is common for cubital tunnel syndrome, and many other such tunnel syndromes. For example, carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by nerve pinching in the wrist, yet the pain is felt on the thumb side of the hand.

And I couldn’t help but notice that the pain in my hand was almost the same flavor as the pain of a cluster headache, just much weaker and in a different spot on the body. From this experience, I learned that bodily pain is not necessarily caused by the same spot of the body where the pain occurs.

Then, when I later discovered the skywriting method, I began to consider the possibility that cluster headaches originated not anywhere on the head, but somewhere in the neck.

And I eventually found the precise spot.

The Culprit: My Cervical Plexus

The cervical plexus is a convergence of nerves that extend from the vertebrae of the neck. From there, they spread to the shoulders, face, throat, and over the top of the skull to the eyes.

Those over-the-top nerves are of particular importance, as they are most likely the ones experiencing the pinch (cluster headaches are felt in the forehead, right above the eyes). Relieving the pressure of that pinch causes immediate relief, as I quickly discovered.

However, this also posed a problem for me. Because for other nerve pinches—such as cubital tunnel syndrome—the solution is to put a brace on the area of the nerve pinch to reduce inflammation, open the channel, and relieve the pressure. It’s possible that a neck brace could provide similar relief for cluster headaches, but I did not have a neck brace. It’s also possible that inversion therapy (which seeks to decompress all vertebrae) would have worked, but I did not possess an inversion table.

What I did have was a deep tissue massager. And that, it turns out, was enough.

Curing Cluster Headaches with Deep Tissue Massage

The particular massage tool I used for this was a Theragun Mini (though other products will likely deliver similar results).

The Theragun has three speed settings: 1750, 2100, and 2400 percussions per minute. I found the highest setting to be the most effective.

Update: The following passage is out of date. In it, I recommend massaging the entire neck and trapezius area. I have since discovered that it is more effective to target the exact pinch point causing the inflammation, as well as a few other discoveries. Scroll to the bottom of this article for more up-to-date information.

Here’s how I use my massager: I start with the skywriting method. I sit up straight and crane my neck back until my face is pointed at the ceiling. But I don’t stop there.

Next, I twist my head slightly left and slightly right. I quickly discover that one side is stiffer and less flexible than the other. For me, that is my left side. And my cluster headache is also concentrated on the left side of my forehead. Remember: every person has two cervical plexa—one on the left side of the neck, and one on the right. By twisting my head, I discover that my left cervical plexus is the one causing most of the problem.

I then get to work with the massager.

On the highest setting, I move the muscle along my upper trapezius on the left side. I focus on the feeling of tightness that lingers around the exact spot of my left cervical plexus, but I move around an area that extends up the the skull, down to the top of the ribcage, and outward to the shoulder.

I massage this area until all stiffness is gone. After a few minutes, the entire area feels like it has been pulverized into gelatin.

After that, I do the exact same thing, but on the right side of the neck. And this is important because even though everyone has two cervical plexa, it is unrealistic to treat them as two unrelated nerve pathways. The majority of the tightness is always on my left side, but I have noticed that there is usually a smaller counter-tightness on the right side as well. Treating only one side will lessen the headache but not stop it. Only when both sides have been pounded to tenderness is the process complete.

Upon completion, relief is immediate. The headache, which typically lasts up to three hours (and sometimes even as long as six) is instead killed in its tracks. Subsequent headaches are still possible within the next few hours, but those can be relieved in the same manner.

Once the pain has been dealt with, rest is recommended. And since cluster headaches usually strike in the middle of the night, the sufferer is advised to catch up on the sleep they have doubtlessly missed.

Treatment should be repeated as often as the headaches reoccur. For most sufferers, the headaches cycle over a period of weeks or months before going into remission for a year or more. It is thus helpful to keep your deep tissue massager close by day and night during these weeks (one of the reasons I chose the Theragun Mini is that it comes with a travel case and is highly portable).

Relief is Possible

I want to end the suffering caused by cluster headaches, and not only for myself.

Though this is not a widespread medical condition, to its sufferers it is the most important thing in the world. I was desperate enough to resort to experimentation and lucky enough to find an answer. And I now want to give that answer to the world.

If any sufferer of cluster headaches wants to test this method, please get in touch with me through my Twitter account.

If any medical professional wishes to speak to me about the content of this post, I encourage them to do the same.

And to those who have resigned themselves to living with the chronic agony of cluster headaches, or those who are mulling the idea of stopping that life artificially, I would ask you to please try the cure I have proposed here. The biggest hurdle is the cost of a deep tissue massager, though methods of manual massage may also be effective (there are many things I haven’t tried, and I can’t explore all the options on my own).

A universal cure for cluster headaches is at least within reach, if not already had, through this discovery. And just because there hasn’t been a lot of medical progress by official sources does not mean that relief is impossible.

Don’t give up yet. The end of cluster headaches is near.

UPDATED METHOD: Follow the Pain

I have now had more experience treating cluster headaches with massage. And I have had the benefit of meeting a few people who have tried my methods but wanted more specifics.

So here is the updated method for curing cluster headaches. It involves targeting the exact pinch point where the cervical compression is happening.

First of all, bigger cluster headaches are caused by bigger, more inflamed pinch points. Smaller headaches are caused by smaller pinch points.

Smaller pinch points are harder to target, and I find that using the side of my massager’s tip helps me make a more precise attack. Since curing my first cluster, my headaches keep getting smaller every time they come back, which is nice, but it also makes it harder to pinpoint the exact area that causes them.

Luckily, pinch points are usually surrounded by inflammation, meaning that as you explore your neck with your hands, you will eventually find an area that hurts to the touch, or is at least tender and sensitive. That’s the area you want to attack.

Attacking it means focusing your deep tissue massager at that point. It may be slightly forward or slightly rearward on the vertebra’s side. It won’t necessarily be exactly on the edge.

Go at it with the massager. The front of the massager’s tip is rather blunt, you may find it more helpful to use the side of the massager’s tip for greater precision.

Large pinch points can be treated in as little as 5 minutes. Smaller ones may be harder to attack, and can take 40 minutes or more.

You may still find it useful to massage the entire trapezius and neck, as this helps to relax the entire neck system, but you specifically want to target the pinch point.

However, it is still important for you to massage the other side of your neck after pulverizing the pinch point. Most of the pain is caused by inflammation on the headache’s dominant side, but a little bit will remain on the opposite side. To balance the level of compression in your neck, it’s important to give the treatment to both sides.

Special thanks to Ingrid Elisa on Twitter/X for helping me with this important research.

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