Headaches can cause pain to any region of the head. Pain can range from minor to debilitating. They can occur on one or both sides of the head, be isolated to a certain location or may radiate across the head from one point to another. They can appear as a sharp pain, a throbbing sensation or a dull ache. Headaches can develop gradually or suddenly, and may last from less than an hour to several days. Signs and symptoms can help identify the type of headache that is present and direct treatment.
The brain itself is not generally responsible for headaches since it doesn’t have sensory nerves that register pain. But the blood vessels, tissues that surround the brain and some major nerves that originate from the brain can signal pain. Therefore, any alteration in the proper functioning of these structures can lead to headaches. The scalp, sinuses, teeth, and muscles and joints of the neck can also cause headaches. However, doctors and researchers do not fully understand what is the root cause of the majority of headaches.
When to seek urgent care
Most headaches aren’t the result of a serious illness, but some may result from a life-threatening condition requiring emergency care. If your headache is extremely severe or unusual, you might worry about a stroke/TIA, tumor, subdural hematoma, or blood clot to name a few. Fortunately, such problems are rare. If suspecting a stroke remember the FAST acronym. The acronym stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties and time to call emergency services.
Types of headaches
Headaches are generally classified in one of two main categories, primary or secondary. Primary headaches are not caused by underlying disease or structural problems. The most common primary headaches types are cluster headaches, migraines, migraines with aura, tension headaches, trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia (TAC), such as cluster headache and paroxysmal hemicrania. While secondary headaches are those caused by an underlying condition, such as neck or mid back injuries/ dysfunctions, infections, or high blood pressure. A broad number of conditions can cause secondary headaches. One of the most common secondary headaches are cervicogenic headaches (originating from the neck).
Identifying headaches triggers can help manage and decrease symptom frequency. Common triggers are listed below:
- Alcohol (red wine)
- Certain foods (processed meats that contain nitrates)
- Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
- Poor posture
- Skipping meals/ hunger
- Too much or intense exercise
- Bright lights/ noises
Addressing the root cause of headaches is essential in order to properly manage them. However, in some cases the root cause cannot be identified and supportive treatments to decrease and manage symptoms can be administered. Cervicogenic headaches are an example of headaches that chiropractic care can have a direct impact. When dysfunctions in the neck and mid back are corrected with the help of manipulations, and other therapies, associated muscular tension is resolved. This decreases stress on the nerves and blood supply supplying the scalp reducing headaches. Manipulation has two distinct advantages over the use of medication; first it targets the source of pain rather than controlling symptoms, and second, it is safer with fewer side effects. The RL clinic also offers laser/photobiomodulation therapy, including the Bioflex and Vielight systems, along with the Sigma Ultralign Instrument, acupuncture and rehabilitation protocols to assist in the management of headaches. Finally, the optimal management of headaches for many patients may often be achieved through a multidisciplinary approach.
Headache disorders impose a recognizable burden on sufferers including impaired quality of life, substantial personal suffering and financial cost. However, with the help of proper management strategies and new technologies individuals do not need to live and endure headaches like before.