Headaches are a complicated issue and can be caused by a huge range of problems. Chiropractors spend a lot of time learning about all the different types of headaches, the various causes and how to diagnose and either treat or appropriately refer to the right specialist. Below, you will be able to learn more about:
- Types and causes of headaches
- What you can do to fix a headache
- How a chiropractor can treat a headache
Struggling with a headache and need help now?
Types and causes of headaches
The most common types of headache are:
- Tension type headache
- Cervicogenic headache
- Cluster headaches
- Post-traumatic headache and concussion
Something we see in clinic and is worth keeping in mind, is that most of us will have more than one type of headache at a time. We find it very rare for someone to just have one type as sometimes, even having one type of headache can lead to a situation which causes another type.
Tension type headaches can be felt all over the head, although commonly around the forehead, eyes and temples. These are often caused by increased or persistent stress, or lack of sleep. When we talk about stress, this can be psychological, the stress we get from impending deadlines or feeling aggravated by other people, or it can be physical, such as being over tired or fatigued from some kind of work. Usually, these subside well when we break away from the souce of stress. In our experience, chiropractic can help because there is usually a secondary component of cervicogenic headache, which we will discuss next.
Cervicogenic headache is often felt at the back of the head or top of the neck. These are caused when joints in the neck become overly stiff or muscles become tight. This can be attributed to stress, hence the common crossover with tension type headaches, or persistent poor posture. A common posture type that gets this is Upper Crossed Posture Syndrome. This is a combination of tight and weak muscles that result from us leaning forwards through the neck, rounding the shoulders. Chiropractic treatment can provide rapid relief but the advice we provide on posture or recognising the causes is the best way to beat a long term headache.
Migraines are particularly complicated, you can read more on our migraine prevention article.
Cluster headaches are one of the most painful forms of headache. These come on quickly and without warning with intense sharp, stabbing or burning pain. Usually one sided and stays with that side and will return, daily for around 4 to 12 weeks. The cause of these is unknown but is linked to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. It can run in families and people who smoke seem to be at higher risk. Because cluster headaches are so unique they are often easily diagnosed. Treatment is either with specialist medication of oxygen therapy. Unfortunately, chiropractic treatment for true cluster headaches is unlikely to be effective. As before, if there are other, coinciding, forms of headache then chiropractic treatment may help to relieve some of the intensity caused by those.
Headaches caused by trauma, perhaps after a knock or an accident can be common. It's always important to assess brain function in these cases to make sure nothing serious has happened, this is something chiropractors are well placed to do. If all is well, but you still have a headache and it doesn't show signs of subsiding within a week then we are likely to be dealing with some combination of tension type or cervicogenic headache. However, concussion can have lasting effects. We will often avoid traditional chiropractic techniques in favour of beneficial rehabilitation techniques.
What you can do to fix a headache
Self management will always come down to getting the right diagnosis. Cluster headache, migraines and persistent headache after trauma should all be discussed with a medical professional rather than trying something yourself.
If you are confident you are dealing with a tension type headache, it's worth thinking about what stresses there are in your life and seeing if there is a way you can reduce them. Anything that helps relax your mind can often be helpful, such as taking a bath, going for a walk or reading a book in a quiet, calm environment. Over the counter medications like ibuprofen and paracetamol can be a good short term solution but you shouldn't rely on these long term. If you can identify any specific tender muscles around your head and jaw you may want to try some gentle pressure or self massage.
If you are confident you fit the cervicogenic type of headache, gentle stretching is likely to be a good place to start. Letting your neck gently bend to either side and holding for 20-30 seconds and then dropping your chin down to your chest for 20-30 seconds are some easy neck stretches. Follow these up with some gentle movement, turning your neck to look over each shoulder several times can mobilise the joints in your neck if they are not too tight.
Chiropractic treatment for headaches
If you want a more accurate diagnosis, quicker relief or have already tried the advice above then coming in to see us would be a great next step. In our headache assessment, we will use a thorough history and exam to get to your diagnosis. We'll check your cranial nerves if appropriate and check all relevant muscles and joints to see what may be contributing to your pain.
Treatment will often involve some soft tissue mobilisation, like massage work, alongside chiropractic spinal manipulation to make sure your neck joints function well. If there is a need we may identify postural patterns that contribute to your problem and provide relevant stretches and exercises as well and any cranial nerve rehabilitation which may be useful.
We find that headaches resolve very well for our patients. The key is to identify the cause and the rest often follows. We can't wait to hear from you and get you feeling pain free again, we know how difficult headaches can be to live with.
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