Headaches are a common inconvenience for many Canadians. They can seemingly strike at any time.
Nearly 90 percent of women and about 70 percent of men will get a tension headache during their lifetime, while 37 percent of women and 21 percent of men experience them regularly.
Most believe the only cure for a pounding headache is simply to just grin, bear it, and let it pass. The good news is there are ways to both prevent and treat frequent headaches.
What causes a headache?
A headache is your body’s way of telling you something isn’t quite right. Most of the common causes of the milder variety of headaches stem from something you are either doing or not doing. These include:
- Missing meals
- Consuming excessive alcohol
- Excessive stress
- Not getting enough sleep
In rare cases, headaches can be sparked by more serious problems. It is important to rule out any significant health issues as early as possible if your headaches are becoming a major problem.
Your headaches could also be caused misalignments in your body. These misalignments, which commonly happen in spinal bones within the neck structure can irritate the nerve roots in the neck and may even cause minor constrictions in some vessels that supply blood to the brain. Your spinal bones can become misaligned for many reasons, which can be anything from excessive physical stress to severe emotional strain.
How your chiropractor can help
A chiropractor is a spine, muscle, and nervous system expert specifically trained to diagnose the underlying cause of your frequent headaches.
They will perform a thorough spinal examination to determine whether the symptoms are coming from misalignments in your body.
On the flip side, they can also rule out misalignments and find out if your headaches are coming from your lifestyle choices (e.g., poor diet, alcohol consumption, or not enough sleep).
If misalignments are the culprit, your chiropractor may perform a simple spinal adjustment to improve function and help relieve your headache. Other treatment options are also available.
Chiropractic has been proven to help those suffering from chronic migraines. An Australian study1 found 72 percent of migraine sufferers in a clinical trial experienced either “substantial” or “noticeable” improvement after a period of chiropractic treatment.
- Source: http://www.news-medical.net/news/2005/05/22/10268.aspx
Blog reposted with permission from the Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors.
You have a headache? You certainly are not alone! Fifty-nine percent of Canadian adults report suffering from some form of headache.1 Headaches can be debilitating, but most often feel like unpleasant discomfort, pain or pressure that can be addressed by manual therapies, relaxation and rest, hydration and even short-term use of pain medication.
Yet, in severe cases, the pain can be unbearable and last for many hours or even days. In 2010, an estimated 2.7 million Canadians reported being diagnosed with a migraine headache2. Research indicates that the number of migraine sufferers is likely under-estimated since not everyone seeks care from a healthcare professional, and are likely undiagnosed.
Similarly, thanks to the help of Dr. Google, many Canadians resort to searching the internet to self-diagnose and self-manage. However, like many sources of pain, the causes of headaches are not all alike. Hence, the remedies will also differ. If you are concerned and looking for relief, seek help from a qualified healthcare professional. Like other MSK conditions, headaches can be differentiated by a comprehensive examination and strategies to relieve the pain can be identified. Talk to your chiropractor or other healthcare provider about your pain and headache today.
Here are a few types of headaches to consider:
The most common type of headache, tension headaches are characterized as diffuse, dull, aching pain typically described as tightness around the head. Not surprisingly, the most common trigger for tension headaches is stress. Generally, this type of headache can be managed by decreasing your stress, applying a cold or hot pack and improving your posture. Conservative care, like chiropractic, can also help relieve symptoms and prevent recurrence.
Migraine headaches can present differently from person to person. Symptoms may include disturbed vision, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, and are often accompanied by sensory warning symptoms (aura). Sufferers may need to lie down in a darkened room until the symptoms ease. The causes of migraine headaches are not yet known, but there are a number of triggers that are associated with migraines including stress, sleep deprivation, changes in the environment and certain foods. A migraine can last hours or even days.
A cervicogenic headache is classified as a secondary headache because the pain is referred from structures of the neck. Since the origin is usually related to the cervical spine, managing pain can include manual therapy and recommended at-home exercise to address postural issues and dysfunction.
What causes headaches?
As stated earlier, the causes of migraines and other types of headaches are not entirely known. Commonly, joint dysfunction, muscle tightness and poor posture can lead to the development of pain and specifically headaches. The changing barometric pressure that accompanies an abrupt shift in the weather is also thought to trigger migraines.
Here are a few other headache triggers that you might want to avoid where possible:
- Skipping meals
- Loud, sustained noise
- Sleep deprivation
Sourced from the Canadian Chiropractic Association
Depending on the type of headache, your healthcare practitioner may recommend spinal manipulation, soft tissue therapy, home exercise, relaxation and/or nutritional counselling. For more information about how chiropractors approach headache treatment, read the key recommendations for practitioners on the Canadian Chiropractic Guideline Initiative’s webpage.
2. Pamela Ramage-Morin and Heather Gilmour, “Prevalence of Migraine in the Canadian Household Population,” Statistics Canada, Health Reports, Volume 25, no. 6. June 2014.
Chiropractic health care
The word “chiropractic” comes from ancient Greek and means “done by hand.”
Adjustment of the joints of the body has been used in the healing arts for many centuries and is at the heart of modern chiropractic care.
Chiropractors are specialists in manual adjustment of the vertebrae of the spine and other joints of the body. Adjustment helps relieve pain and restore normal functioning to the joints and supporting muscles and ligaments – so you can enjoy your everyday activities again as quickly as possible.
Your chiropractor will recommend a course of treatment specific to you that may also include mobilization of the joints, ultrasound, muscle release techniques, muscle stimulation and therapeutic exercises. Chiropractors are also trained to provide nutritional counselling, and recommend rehabilitation and injury prevention strategies.
Back health is important
The body’s information highway – your nervous system – is protected by the spine. The nervous system travels out between the vertebrae or joints of the spine to carry messages from the brain to every corner of your body. Stress and strain on the vertebrae can put pressure on the nerves in the affected area. That is why a problem with your spine can have far-reaching effects causing symptoms such as arm or leg pain.
When to consider chiropractic care
If aching joints and muscle pain are affecting your ability to get through the day and keeping you away from your favourite activities, consider chiropractic care. Work, accidents, sports injuries, household chores, even the stress of daily living can cause painful joint and back problems. Even if you do not have painful symptoms, chiropractic care can help you maintain healthy spine and joint function.
Here are some of the most common reasons why more than 4 million Canadians visit a chiropractor each year:
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Strains and sprains from daily activities
- Repetitive strain injuries
- Work and sports-related injuries
- Restricted movement in the back, shoulders, neck or limbs
Benefits of chiropractic care
Chiropractic treatment is skilled, hands-on health care that relieves pain and helps your body be its best. Here are some of the ways it can help you.
- Improved movement in your neck, shoulders, back and torso
- Better posture
- Relief from headaches, neck and back pain
- Prevention of work-related muscle and joint injuries
- Enhanced athletic performance
- Improved flexibility
- Relief of pregnancy-related back ache
- Correction of gait and foot problems
Headache Referring Behind My Eye!
Have you ever experienced a headache that refers from the back of the neck to your eye? The sensation that I experience is often quite sharp and localized to one side of my head (usually the right side). These type of headaches are quite commonly experienced by many individuals in the population. Perhaps, increased stress, working at the computer for long hours or long commutes maybe responsible for these headaches…
There are a variety of headaches out there – migraine, cluster and tension-type to name a few. The headache that I am referring above is known in the medical literature as a “cervicogenic headache”.
What is a Cervicogenic Headache?
A cervicogenic headache is caused by an abnormality of the structures in the neck. What structures you ask? Basically, the muscles, nerve, bone, fascia and other soft tissues located in the neck area. A cervicogenic headache is sometimes debilitating and is a condition that accounts for 15% to 20% of all headaches. The criteria for diagnosing a cervicogenic headache is as follows:
A. Pain is referred from a source in the neck and perceived in one or more regions of the head and/or face, fulfilling criteria C and D
B. Clinical, laboratory and/or imaging evidence of a disorder within the cervical spine or soft tissues of the neck known to cause headache
C. Clinical signs that implicate a source of pain in the neck.
- 1. Reduced range of motion
- 2. Mechanical exacerbation of pain
- 3. Focal neck tenderness
- 4. Trigger points that refer to the head
D. When myofascial tender spots are the only cause, the headache should be diagnoses as tension-type headache and not cervicogenic.
What is the cause of a Cervicogenic Headache?
An issue to the neck muscles and other surrounding tissues/structures (bones and joints) are responsible for this type of headache. Whether it be a strain or strain, trauma or fall, our soft tissues and joints can become involved and negatively influenced. Sometimes the C0-C1 joint (first neck joint between the spine and head) or those neck joints below become tight/locked or restricted for whatever the reason. Furthermore, sometimes the muscles in the areas also become tight and tender. A question that is difficult to answer is what causes what – Is it the joint tightness that causes the muscle pain/tightness OR is it that tight muscles that cause the joint pain and thus the cervicogenic headache? This is like the classical chicken and egg scenario. What came first the chicken or the egg? My guess is that the headache can be caused by either structure (joint or muscle/soft tissue) and that both structures influence one another. When the joint is tight, the muscle become tight and when the muscle is tight, the joint does not move as well.
What Evidence Based Treatment Options are Available for Cervicogenic Headache Suffers?
I find that a chiropractic adjustment helps to alleviate my neck and cervicogenic headache symptoms quite quickly. I get cervicogenic headaches periodically – once a month. When I feel that my neck is tight and stiff and a headache is coming on, I have a colleague of mine adjustment my neck and upper back area. Sometimes the relief is instant!
According to some of the latest research on cervicogenic headaches, the following treatments are effective. Spinal manipulation therapy two times per week for 3 weeks. Joint mobilization 8-12 treatments over 6 weeks. Deep neck flexors exercises twice daily for 6 weeks. It is important to note that there is no consistently additive benefit of combing deep neck flexor exercises and joint mobilization for cervicogenic headache. Sourced from “Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Headache Disorders in Adults – Jan 2012?
After each treatment, it is important to reassess the condition.
I hope you have found this blog educational. Remember, it is always important to rule out serious conditions which may also be a source to a headache. These conditions should be ruled out first before any treatment is commenced. Always consult your health practitioner prior to commencing any treatment. Thank you for reading my blog Headache Referring Behing My Eye.
Dr. Luciano Di Loreto, HBSc., D.C.