Headaches and Migraines
Headaches are an extremely common health complaint and can usually be attributed to a certain factor, be it a change in your sleep pattern, hormonal change, too much caffeine and most commonly stress just to name a few. During your consultation all of your lifestyle and dietary intake will be assessed to see if these maybe causing your headaches.
There are many different types of headaches and it is important to make the correct diagnosis as all too often they can be a symptom of another underlying medical problem for example if you have a fever due to the body fighting off the infection you will suffer a severe acute headache. This is why an initial consultation is so vital to establishing a proper diagnosis.
Tension headaches are the most common, which feel like a dull ache with constant pressure around the front, top and sides of the head. A lot of people however consider this a normal part of everyday life even if they get 1 or 2 headaches daily. But it is a case of establishing why you are getting them?
Stress is obviously a very common cause, but there are lots of others, including drinking too much alcohol, not getting enough sleep, depression, skipping meals and becoming dehydrated. Naturally with stress comes muscle tension which are another main contributor to headaches due to referred muscle pain. So tension headaches are multi-factoral and require a holistic approach to either reducing or stopping them completely.
Migraines are less common. If a headache is recurrent and disabling to the point of stopping you from carrying on with daily life, it may be a migraine.
People describe migraines as a pounding or throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. A migraine is usually a severe headache felt as a throbbing pain at the front or side of the head.
Some people also have other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light or sound.
Migraines are more common in women and usually begin in early adulthood.
There are several types of migraine, including:
• migraine with aura – where there are warning signs before the migraine begins, such as seeing flashing lights
• migraine without aura – where the migraine occurs without warning signs
• migraine aura without headache, also known as silent migraine – where an aura or other migraine symptoms are experienced, but a headache does not develop
Some people have migraines frequently, up to several times a week. Other people only have a migraine occasionally. It is possible for years to pass between migraine attacks.
Cluster headaches are a third type of primary headache. These excruciatingly painful headaches cause an intense pain around one eye. They’re rare and are called cluster headaches because they happen in clusters for a month or two at a time around the same time of year.
Pharmacy medications don’t ease the symptoms of a cluster headache, but a doctor can prescribe specific treatments to ease the pain.
These include headaches that come on after drinking too much alcohol or after a head injury or concussion.
You may also get a headache when you’ve had:
• a cold
• an allergic reaction
• sinusitis – read more about sinus headaches
Medication and painkiller headaches
Some headaches are a side effect of taking a particular medication and frequent headaches can also be caused by taking too many painkillers.
Headaches in women are often caused by hormones, and many women notice a link with their periods. The Pill, the menopause and pregnancy are also potential triggers.
A lot of women comment on having headaches around the monthly cycle and if there are any signs during the consultation that your headaches seem to be due to a hormone imbalance I can refer you for a blood test to rule out certain medical conditions if you have not had one already.
Temporomandibular joint disorders
Headaches are one of the symptoms of temporomandibular joint disorders (TJDs). TJDs affect the joint between the lower jaw and the base of the skull.
It has been estimated that approximately 20-30% of the adult population will experience a TJD at some point.
Symptoms usually last for a few months before getting better.
Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis)
Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is a condition in which medium and large arteries, usually in the head and neck, become inflamed. It usually affects adults over 60 years old.
Giant cell arteritis should be regarded as a medical emergency and you should contact your GP immediately if you suddenly develop:
• a severe headache
• jaw pain when eating
• blurred or double vision
• a sore scalp
Common Triggers for all Headache sufferers to consider
Many triggers have been related to the onset of a headache attack some of the more common are listed below:
• after periods of stress (commonly occurs on over the week end or holidays)
• Foods (commonly; chocolate, caffeine, nitrates, cheese, nuts, wine and many more)
• Some medications (including vasodilators)
• Changes in sleeping habits
• Hormonal changes (associations with the menstrual cycle)
• Tension in the neck (especially the upper part of the neck)
But it is important to know that in reality, for many people, the symptoms are a mixture of more than one type of headache. Many specialists, including chiropractors, now talk about a headache continuum, where the, severely disabling, classical migraine is at one end ranging to the, less disabling, mild tension headache at the other end.
What does treatment involve?
Unlike pain killing drugs, we treat the cause of the pain not just the pain itself.
We will carry out a full examination and ask you detailed questions about your medical history and lifestyle, to discover the cause of your headaches.
Once the diagnosis has been made, we will use a variety of specific manipulation or adjustment techniques in order to mobilise (free) the neck joints, stretch, relax and strengthen the neck muscles and remove spinal nerve irritation.
Some patients report almost immediate relief, whilst others notice a gradual easing of their symptoms over a period of several weeks. This will depend on the nature and chronicity of the problem.
Identification of a specific trigger is essential in the management of the problem in a regular sufferer, with behavioural or lifestyle changes playing an important part in the treatment (e.g. avoidance of certain foods or maintenance of a regular sleep pattern).
Nutritional and herbal support have indicated that the use of supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, calcium, vitamin D among others useful in the treatment of migraine. However always consult your chiropractor or doctor before beginning any supplements.
Medications can be of use in some cases but are mainly prophylactic. Initially over the counter medications can be used but if persistent your GP may advise the use of prescription drugs.
Acupuncture treatment has also been shown to help in some cases among other alternative techniques.
Chiropractic has been shown to help reduce the severity and frequency of migraine attacks in many cases, especially cases of common migraines, and we therefore recommend that you undergo a trial treatment.
Chiropractic treatment also deals with many contributory factors or after effects including relieve of restriction in movement of the neck, muscle tension in the neck, upper back and shoulders and helping correct any postural issues that may influence the occurrence of both migraine and tension headaches.