Headaches are a True Pain in the Neck!
Have a headache that just won’t go away? You’re in the same boat as about half of the adult population around the world. Headaches are one of the most common medical problems in today’s society, with almost half of the adult population having experienced at least one headache in the last year, as reported by the World Health Organization.
It’s therefore no surprise that at most chiropractic clinics, a large percentage of our patient base arrives seeking treatment for their headache and migraine symptoms. This is because many headache and migraine symptoms are actually due to problems in the neck that are mainly caused by spinal misalignment.
Why Spinal Misalignments Lead to Headaches
Spinal misalignment can occur a number of different ways, including poor posture, deterioration of the joints in the neck, impact trauma, and even improper footwear. There are more people hunched over at their desks than ever before, working longer and longer hours, putting significant strain on their neck and shoulders. Of course, the proliferation of hand-held devices is also proven to lead to headaches, due to the inevitable “text neck”.
Studies have shown that forward head posture and weakness in the neck musculature can refer pain to the head. These same studies also show that adjusting the spine can have a significant positive effect in reducing the number of hours and intensity of the headache. It has even proven to work so well, that many people decrease their consumption of headache medication after undergoing a trial of chiropractic care!
Let’s take a closer look at how chiropractors can help heal your headache symptoms, starting with a brief reminder of what headaches actually are:
Types of Headaches
Headache is the common name for the pain symptom felt in the head, face, and neck. There are many different types of headaches a person can experience, broken down into two groups: primary and secondary headaches.
- Primary headaches, including migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches, are caused by problems with, or the over activity of, the structures in the head itself. The headache is not caused by other medical conditions because the issue is stemming from the head, neck, or shoulders. Some primary headaches, like tension headaches caused by staring at the computer screen for too long, are more easily preventable, while others such as cluster headaches, are often out of a person’s control.
- Secondary headaches can be thought of as symptoms caused by a secondary condition. Some self-inflicted conditions include hangovers, caffeine withdrawal, brain freeze, elevated stress levels, or not drinking enough water throughout the day. Examples of things that might cause non-self-inflicted secondary headaches include blood clots, sinus problems, teeth grinding, concussion, stroke, insomnia or lack of sleep, glaucoma, cold & flu, and panic attacks.
Most Common Headache Symptoms
A headache can be much more than just “My head sure is killing me today!” or “Ow, my head really hurts right now.” And the headache symptoms will vary depending on the type of headache. For instance, a person experiencing a tension headache (by far the most common type of primary headache out there) usually describes feelings of:
- Having a tight band around their head
- A dull ache on both sides that remains constant
- Pain radiating to or from the neck
Whereas a person experience a migraine often reports feeling:
- A pulsing, throbbing pain on only one side of the head.
- Blurred vision
- Sensory disturbances (auras)
Headaches range in severity. They can either cause sharp, throbbing pain, or dull, constant pain. Headaches may appear suddenly, or gradually over time. They are unpredictable and can be debilitating, lasting anywhere from less than an hour to several days.
Treatment for Headaches
The majority of headache sufferers resort to over the counter pain medication as a first line of defence against a debilitating headache. This takes care of the pain, but is not sustainable. After awhile, many headache sufferers will seek help from a chiropractor to examine the root cause of their headaches to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Treatment for headaches, beyond taking a painkiller, starts with understanding the cause of the headache.
- Dehydrated? Drink more water.
- Caffeine withdrawal? Try weaning yourself off slowly instead.
- Hair pulled back too tight? Let it loose!
- Hat on too tight? Take it off!
- Sleep deprived? Go to bed.
- Dry eyes? Eye drops!
- Hangover? Rest up.
- And so on.
If none of these are options, to treat a headache right then and there, try:
- Neck and shoulder massage
- Essential oil blends
- Hot or cold compresses
- Low light levels or darkness
- Moving to a quiet room if possible
- Sleeping if possible
- Seeing a chiropractor for persistent headaches
The Benefits of Chiropractic Care for Headaches
As mentioned in our introduction, neck and shoulder pain commonly lead to headaches. Pain radiates! Therefore, for anyone experiencing frequent headaches, chiropractic care can be an effective solution and a good way to avoid having to take too many painkillers (which ultimately lead to something called rebound headaches).
Chiropractic Treatments for Headaches: What to Expect
During your visit to a chiropractor for your headaches, your chiropractor will begin by doing an overall wellness exam and assessing potential causes of your headaches by asking a series of questions. Something that can be helpful before your first visit, or even after, is starting a headache journal in which you document your headaches for 1 to 6 months to see if there are any common themes. Are they only happening in the morning? Only at night? Only after certain types of foods? Only on the weekends? Only when it’s cloudy outside?
Chiropractic treatments for headaches includes manual adjustments to re-align the spine, restore proper spinal curves while reducing nerve interference, and stimulate movement of the joint. Correcting problems in the neck should also be combined with specialized exercises that we teach at our office, to reduce any chance of recurrence.
Chiropractors might also take an assessment of your posture and make recommendations for corrections. This is done at the same time as suggesting things you can do to prevent headaches from occurring in the future, including ergonomic adjustments at your office, sleep aids and special pillows to help with proper neck alignment, and diet changes to help reduce inflammation and diminish stress. Relaxation techniques (self care!) are often recommended as well, if the tension headaches appear to be stress related.
In conclusion, there are many ways to alleviate a headache, but there is also a simple way to prevent them from even happening, and that’s tackling the underlying cause of the headache. See a chiropractor to help you determine if your neck and shoulder issues are causing your head to throb by the end of the work week.
Thinking about scheduling time with a chiropractor to help heal your headaches? Dr. Stephanie Louie at Mind Body Spine is a Victoria, BC, chiropractor with advanced training in treating headaches and TMJ disorders. Call Mind Body Spine at 250-885-2320 to book a time to come and see Dr. Louie.