Nearly everyone has experienced a headache at one point or another. According to the World Health Organization, at least 50% of adults globally have experienced a headache in the past year.
Headaches can cause pain in any region of the head and can range from mild to debilitating. They can occur on one or both sides of the head, in a specific location, or may radiate across the head from one point to another. They can manifest 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 and inform treatment.
The brain itself is not generally responsible for headaches since it doesn’t have sensory nerves that register pain. But the blood vessels and tissues that surround the brain, as well as some major nerves that originate from the brain, can transmit pain signals. Therefore, any alteration in the proper functioning of these structures can lead to headaches. Disorders involving the scalp, sinuses, teeth, and neck muscles and joints can also cause headaches. However, doctors and researchers do not fully understand the root cause of most 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 whether you’re having a stroke or transient ischemic attack, tumour, subdural hematoma, or blood clot. Fortunately, such problems are rare. If you suspect that you’re having a stroke, remember the FAST acronym: 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 headache types are cluster headaches, migraines, migraines with aura, tension headaches, trigeminal autonomic cephalalgia (TAC), such as cluster headache and paroxysmal hemicrania. [NW13] Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying condition, such as neck or mid-back injuries and dysfunctions, infections, and high blood pressure. A wide range of conditions can cause secondary headaches. One of the most common types is cervicogenic headaches, which originate in the neck.
Identifying headache triggers can help manage and decrease symptom frequency. Common triggers include:
- alcohol (red wine)
- certain foods (processed meats containing nitrates)
- changes in sleep or lack of sleep
- poor posture
- skipping meals, hunger
- too much exercize or exercize that is too intense
- bright lights and noises
Addressing the root cause of headaches is essential 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 help directly. When dysfunctions in the neck and mid-back are corrected with the help of manipulations and other therapies, associated muscular tension is resolved. This reduces stress on the nerves and blood supply in the scalp, which reduces headache pain. Manipulation has two distinct advantages over the use of medication. First, instead of focusing on managing symptoms, manipulation targets pain at the source. Second, it is safer because it has fewer side effects. The Robichaud-Lévesque clinic also offers photobiomodulation/laser therapy, including the Bioflex and Vielight systems, along with our Sigma Ultralign Instrument, acupuncture, and rehabilitation protocols to assist in managing headaches. Finally, many patients may achieve optimal headache management through a multidisciplinary approach.
Headache disorders are a sizeable burden for people who suffer from them, since they negatively impact quality of life, cause substantial personal suffering, and involve financial cost. However, with the help of proper management strategies and new technologies, you no longer need to live with and endure headaches.