Did you know that neck pain and headaches are one of the most common issues in our current society? According to the World Health Organization (2016), it is estimated that the prevalence of headaches (at least once within a year) is about 50% globally. That’s a lot of pain! There are so many factors in our lives that can contribute to one or more headaches or neck symptoms per year including: prior injuries, poor postures, direct trauma, heavy lifting, contact sports, jaw dysfunction, stress and more!
The main symptom of a headache is a pain in the head or face. The sensation can be throbbing, constant, sharp, compressing or dull.
Primary headaches are headaches that are not due to another medical condition and include:
Secondary headaches are headaches that are caused by another medical condition and include:
Often times, headache cases that arrive at a Vancouver wellness clinic like Baseline, are primary headaches as they are more common cases. Within the primary headache category, the most frequent headaches are Tension Headaches followed by Migraine Headaches. Although, they are uncommon to come to a wellness clinic, it is still important to screen for all of the other causes of headaches to ensure safety and the best management for clients! That is why a detailed history should obtained with new onset of headaches or conditions.
Headaches are usually a result of signals that are interacting among the brain, blood vessels and surround nerves. During a headache, usually an unknown stimulus or mechanism will start to activate nerves that then affect the muscles and blood vessels and create the pain patterns that we know as headaches.
A tension headache is the most common physical cause for headaches. A tension headache is often due to tense musculature that leads to referral pain. Referral pain is a term that describes pain in an area that is due to tension or build up in another area of the body. Referral pain is typically predictable based on the muscle tissue that is affected.
In the case of tension headaches, the most common cause is the upper trapezius muscle. As seen on this image shown to the left (www.themassageclinic.ca), the X represents trigger points or “knots” that can occur due to prolonged poor postures and stress. As a result, it can create a pulling tension that can affect a large area of the head.
Many other muscles in the head and neck can create different headaches and they all have different patterns. Additionally, tension headaches can be due to joint problems in the neck and jaw as well so multiple areas need to be screened in order to identify what could be the source of a headache.
Characteristically, tension headaches often come and go depending on the stressful activity and often can be decreased by manual therapy (massage, chiropractic, physiotherapy) and often times the pain will be like a band across the head the is usually mild to moderate in pain and is usually responsive to over the counter medications.
Migraines are a type of headache that are not fully understood at this time. There have been thoughts about blood vessels overreacting to nerve impulses and leading to some chemical changes in the brain but the definitive cause of migraines is essentially unknown. Migraines can present with aura (pre-migraine symptoms) or auras can be absent. The presence or absence of aura does not dictate how bad the migraines are simply are just characteristics that can occur with migraine headaches. Migraines typically present as a one side headache and they can be disabling. They often accompany one or more of nausea, light sensitivity and sound sensitivity. The pain that is present with migraines is usually moderate to severe and the pain can last for hours to days. It is often reported as a disabling pounding or throbbing pain.
The most common treatment that individuals use are over the counter medications which can be effective for the occasional headache, however, if headaches persist and never resolve or are increasing in frequency these medications may not be the best solution.
The best and most critical aspect towards treating headaches is to find out the triggers and source of the headaches.
The best way to find the source of the headaches are to consult a health care provider that treats headaches. Your local chiropractor, physiotherapist, registered massage therapist, and Naturopathic Physician are great sources to find the reason behind your neck and headaches. Your chosen practitioner should take a detailed history and perform an exam to ensure that your headache is not a secondary type of headache that could use more intensive management. Once it is confirmed that your headache is likely a primary headache, most practitioners should then start working on the cause of the headache if it is a tension headache. For Migraine headaches, the research is mixed for manual therapy and the effects on these headaches. Some individuals will respond well to care and it will help them to manage their conditions, others will experience no differences for their symptoms. In the end, conservative care management especially with headache trigger identification and management can be great assets to headaches and with low risks involved in treatment it is worth the change of managing these cases.
As always, if you have any questions about your conditions and would like to schedule an appointment with us at Baseline Health and Wellness you can give us a call at 6046744027 or schedule online at www.baselinewellness.ca
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