At one time or another we've all experienced throbbing or stabbing pains in our heads. Because the head controls the rest of the body, nothing else can get your attention quite so immediately or completely. If there were only one cause of headaches, the treatment would be a lot easier. However, headaches come in many different shapes and sizes, and the causes can be equally complex. There is no one simple answer.
Headaches can be triggered by physical or emotional stress, toxic fumes, certain foods, preservatives, alcohol, bright light, trauma, hormonal changes, too much or too little sleep, allergies, or blood pressure to name just a few causes. Another frequently overlooked cause of headaches is misaligned spinal bones in the neck and upper back. When spinal bones lose their normal position and motion, delicate nerves and blood vessels to the head can be affected.
One thing is certain. A recurring headache is a sign that something is wrong. While pain-relievers like aspirin may temporarily ease discomfort, they also mask the symptoms. They do nothing to correct the source of the problem. And while the problem remains, the headaches will come back...again and again.
What type of headache do I have?
There are specific labels for many types of headaches, but when your head is pounding, it's hard to care. By far, tension headaches are the most common type in the United States and may affect as much as 95% of the population at one time or another.
Tension headache sufferers report full, steady pain on one or both sides of the head and often a feeling of vice-like tightness. Typically, these headaches begin with physical or mental stress that causes contractions of muscles in the neck, back and head. these prolonged contractions rob the muscles of oxygen, making them release chemicals that transmit "referred" pain signals to the brain.
So many seemly innocent things can trigger a tension headache, it's often hard to pinpoint a cause. Emotional stress from a job, home, or relationship can cause muscle tension. Sitting for long periods hunched over a desk or computer, gripping a telephone between the shoulder and ear, driving in heavy traffic or bad weather, adjusting to new lenses in glasses - all these things can cause muscles to tighten in the neck and back.
Physical stress from pain in another part of the body, often spinal problems, can also cause chronic muscle contractions leading to tension headaches.
This category of intensely throbbing, stabbing headaches occur when blood vessels supplying the scalp and brain rapidly dilate. It includes migraines and cluster headaches. Migraine sufferers are often completely debilitated, feeling nauses and unable to bear noise or light, from a few hours to a few days while the migraine lasts. Even worse, can be cluster headaches so-called because they occur in clusters, lasting from 10 minutes to three hours up to eight times a day.
These headaches caused by problems within the cervical (neck) spine are felt in the back, sides and front of the head or the front of the face or neck. Changes in the normal curvature of the neck caused by trauma, degenerative arthritis, or poor posture can cause chronic irritation to vertebral nerve roots. The onset of pain is sudden or acute, and may also cause muscle tension in the neck bringing on tension headaches as well.
When should you seek help for your headache?
When headaches are frequent or recur over time, they can make life miserable. Everything else becomes secondary to the pain. But remember, pain is how the body tells us that something is wrong. It's not wise to ignore the signals and treat just the symptoms. Seek professional help in finding and eliminating the cause of the headaches from your Chiropractor.
How chiropractic care can help your headache
A Doctor of Chiropractic is highly experienced in finding the causes behind headaches as well as relieving the immediate pain. He or she can help determine whether a physical or structural problem may be involved and, if so, correct it. Usually, a series of spinal adjustments to return misaligned spinal bones to a more normal position and motion can relieve pressure on irritated nerve roots. A Chiropractor can also help in identifying headache triggers, suggest relaxation exercises, therapy and lifestyle modifications to help avoid future headaches.
A safer approach
Medical management of headaches usually involves medications which are never risk-free. Side effects and even dependencies are common. Chiropractic care offers a safe, natural alternative to relieving and preventing headaches.
What you can do
Follow the doctor's recommendations for diet and fitness. Keep a diary of activities, foods eaten, and inhalants over a period of weeks for use in identifying headache triggers. Regularly use the relaxation techniques suggested by the chiropractor and be patient if seeking help for a long-standing problem.