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The Ultimate Guide to Headaches (and What to Do About Them!)

We’ve all had one, but what exactly does your headache say about your health? About half of the population will suffer from a headache at least once this year. That’s a huge number! Not surprisingly they are considered one of the most common disorders of the nervous system, and yet, headaches can be challenging to treat as each type comes with it’s own symptom profile, causes, and specific treatments. Often times, headaches act as indicators for an underlying health issue.  

What are the different types of headaches?

1 – Tension Headaches

Probably the most popular of the headaches, tension-type headaches feel like dull, band-like pressure wrapping around the head and behind the eyes, and are downright annoying and often chronic.

These are typically your “end of the day” stress headaches, but they can present at any time and last anywhere from 30 minutes to hours.

Top triggers are stress, depression, poor posture, dehydration, lack of sleep and eye strain.

2 – Migraines

These are your intense throbbing, one-sided, and generally more debilitating headaches that can last for days. More often affecting women, the most common migraine symptoms include nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, difficulty concentrating, irritability and dizziness.

“Aura” symptoms, those felt just prior to the start of a migraine, may or may not occur and can include visual disturbances like flashing lights or flickering lines, numbness or weakness in the face, pins and needles and trouble speaking.

Migraine “triggers” include stress, hormone changes, dehydration, certain medications, foods (like wine and chocolate, unfortunately), and lack of sleep. Inflammation, nerve signals like serotonin and a genetic predisposition may play a role in these types of headaches.

3 – Cluster Headaches

The most severe, and (luckily) the least common, cluster headaches live up to their name occurring in “clusters” lasting for a period of weeks to months and then abating for months to years. While women win the migraine card, men are 6 times more likely to experience cluster headaches.

The hallmark of these are intense burning pain behind one eye, and symptoms that may mimic allergies or hay fever, including a watering or swollen eye, stuffy or runny nose and feelings of agitation.

They can last minutes to hours, and typically they occur around a similar time each day. These headaches are often related to alcohol use and smoking.

4 – Exertional Headaches

Upped your workouts lately? Exercise including running and weight lifting, sexual intercourse and even long bouts of coughing or sneezing can trigger exertional headaches. Symptoms include throbbing generalized head pain that typically doesn’t last long after the strenuous activity is stopped.

5 – Sinus Headache

Do you also have a runny nose or fever? Sinus headaches often accompany those symptoms, and feel like an achy, dull pain around the sinuses – eyes, cheeks and forehead.

Managing the underlying sinus infection can help alleviate this type of headache.

6 – Caffeine Withdrawal Headaches

Whether you accidentally missed your morning cup, or you’re intentionally cutting the habit, a regular coffee drinker will certainly be reminded of its absence. This headache is usually felt as diffuse or throbbing. The good news is, if you get your fix the headache will usually go away within an hour, or if you can stick it out for about a week this withdrawal symptom will subside.

7 – Menstrual Headache

If you can correlate the timing of your headaches with your menstrual cycle this might be it. These headaches, like migraines, are hormone influenced. Also like migraines, their symptom profile is generally the same without aura. They may also be related to birth control use, menopause or pregnancy

8 – Hangover Headaches

This headache is a reminder, generally with each movement, of the those drinks you consumed the night before. It’s throbbing in nature, spanning both sides of the head and usually comes with sound and light sensitivity. Make sure you give your body a little extra TLC, and drink plenty of water all day to help with these headaches.

When to seek emergency care

While headaches are common, sometimes they can be symptoms of more serious, potentially life-threatening issues. It is important to note that “harmless” headaches can share symptoms associated with those of dangerous warning signs. Seek the care of a medical provider if your headache is associated with:

  • the worst headache of your life
  • numbness or tingling
  • blurry vision, difficulty speaking or swallowing, confusion (The above symptoms could be the signs of a stroke)
  • A significant blow to the head or other unspecified head trauma(This could be a symptom of a brain hemorrhage or bleed)
  • A stiff neck or a rash (This could be a sign of meningitis)

We see a variety of headache presentations at the clinic. Using neurokinetic therapy to look for postural compensations and ergonomic assessments to pinpoint extra physical stress on the body allows us to better diagnose headache causes. Chiropractic treatment and soft tissue therapies, like active release technique, can be highly effective in targeting the cause of one’s headache and allow for the best, individualized treatment. Co-management with your eye doctor to assess for eye strain, or a functional medicine doctor to evaluate food intolerance and hormone influences are strategies we implement for headache relief.

How to treat the most common headaches

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are strongly influenced by stress and posture. Jaw clenching, a pro-inflammatory diet and sitting all day also contribute to these types of headaches.

Neurokinetic therapy helps to pinpoint the muscles your body is specifically overworking, adding more “tension” and physical stress leading to headaches. We use active release technique to relax tight muscles, and develop a program of core stabilizing exercises and breathing techniques to help maintain better posture and lower mental stress. Sitting at a desk all day can have some serious effects on the body and mind. We have patients send us a picture of them at their work desk to further address ergonomic issues.

We may refer you to an eye doctor to assess eye strain, a breathing or jaw specialist to address clenching, and ask about diet and nutrition when treating this kind of headache.

Migraine Headaches

Managing migraines can be complex because many factors are usually involved. Active release technique, chiropractic manipulation and breathing exercises for stress relief are used here in conjunction with an herbal and nutritional protocol that can address deficiencies and help tackle those debilitating aura symptoms.

Magnesium, B vitamins -specifically B6 and B12, Vitamin D and Vitamin E deficiencies are often linked to migraines. Herbs like feverfew and butterbur reduce inflammation and address the vascular component of migraines by increasing blood flow. Essential oils like peppermint and lavender soothe symptoms and also have therapeutic effects in balancing hormones and managing aura symptoms and stress.

We work closely with functional medicine doctors to balance the nutritional and hormonal causes of migraines.

Sinus Headaches

Correct diagnosis is important when it comes to treating sinus headaches. Treating any underlying bacterial infection or addressing allergies that cause sinusitis can help alleviate these headaches. Improved posture, exercise, increased quality sleep and decreased stress levels all help to boost the immune system.

Studies show that chiropractic adjustments reduce tension and migraine headaches. In combination with soft tissue therapy (the gold standard being Active Release Technique) exercise instruction, nutritional counseling and co-management with other providers, we give you the tools to treat and prevent headaches.

Please follow up with one of the chiropractors here at Urban Wellness Clinic with any questions regarding your personal headache treatment.