When it comes to treating and managing headaches at Dynamic Chiropractic, we know that there are lots of variables to address. In this article we will cover the four main headaches as well as how to manage the headache that you have.
Step 1: Let's figure out what type of headache you have
Know your headache
You hear about it everywhere. When somebody has a headache, they’ll more than likely assume it’s a migraine. Whether it’s because we’re more exposed to that term through our peers, family, doctors, media etc. However, they are actually not the most common type of headache in Australia and you may not be suffering from migraines after all! Each headache can mean something different and how we approach them varies. For this reason, it’s so important to speak to your Chiropractor about your headaches so that they can provide the best advice and treatment for you.
Common headache types:
Funnily enough, this is the most prevalent type of headache in Australia. They tend to be episodic in nature (comes and goes) with pain that spreads across both sides of the head, scalp and neck area.
People typically complain of a pressing/tightening sensation across their scalp and/or forehead that is mild to moderate in intensity and generally lasts anywhere between 30 minutes to a few hours. Thankfully and unlike some other headaches, they don’t tend to come with symptoms like nausea, vomiting or sensitivity to light and/or sound.
Stress is the most common cause of tension headaches. Think back to a time where you were super stressed. Chances are you felt some sort of tightness and tension building in your shoulder muscles and all you wanted was for someone to dig their elbow into it (we’ve all been there). Well that’s where tension headaches stem from! Chiropractic management is an extremely effective tool in the management and prevention of tension type headaches.
The one we all know too well. You may have heard of the word ‘aura’ being associated with migraines. These are sensory changes people experience prior to the onset of their migraines. This includes things such as spots of light, sensitivity to sound, blurry vision, nausea and dizziness. Think of it as ‘warning’ signals the body gives you before you get the migraine (just remember that this doesn’t necessarily happen to everyone). On average, they can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days and commonly present on one side of the head- this is a hallmark feature of a migraine. Since migraines increase our sensitivity to certain triggers such as light, sound, smell, food etc, it’s very common for people to seek relief by laying down in a dark and quiet room. Most people can agree that any sort of physical activity (even as small as going for a walk outside) can sometimes be enough to exacerbate symptoms. Migraines aren’t friendly and are definitely not something you should have to live with.
True to their name, cluster headaches essentially come in clusters. They are a series of relatively short but high intensity headaches that are followed by intermittent periods of relief. Research suggests that some individuals may experience up to eight cluster headaches within a 24 hour period which can then continue for days, weeks or even months at a time. It’s still up for debate as to what causes these headaches; some research papers have suggested that it has to do with a disorder of the ‘internal clock’ inside our hypothalamus (a structure in the brain that controls hormone regulation).
Common symptoms of cluster headaches include excruciating one-sided pain behind or around the eye that may radiate to other areas of your face/head/neck, excessive tearing of the eyes, nasal congestion, restlessness, forehead/facial swelling on the same side and pale/flushed skin.
Unlike migraines, cluster headaches come on very abruptly and cause restlessness. As discussed previously, people with migraines prefer to lay down in a quiet/dark room to help the headache pass. Cluster headaches have quite the opposite effect- it’s very common for people to feel the need to pace around in the hope of settling down the pain due to heightened levels of agitation and irritability.
These are classed as secondary headaches. Secondary headaches are those that occur due to prior physical or neurological issues. This includes things such as neck injuries, trauma, bio-mechanical issues, infection, arthritis etc. This is one important characteristic that sets them apart from primary headaches such as migraines and cluster headaches. Whilst the issue of concern arises from the cervical spine (neck), it can be difficult to diagnose because the pain itself isn’t always necessarily felt here. Although it does originate from the cervical spine, cervicogenic headaches have the ability to refer pain to another location. Typically, these headaches radiate across the forehead, eye, ear and temporal area. Pain almost always affects the same side of the neck and head, but in some very rare cases it can affect both sides.
Since we’ve come to realise that the location of symptoms is very similar to a migraine, one prominent feature of cervicogenic headaches is neck stiffness and a reduced range of motion. You often hear of people having trouble with doing basic daily tasks such as turning their neck to check their blind spot. Like with all things, early intervention is best.
The goal with cervicogenic headaches is to correct the dysfunction occurring lower down in the cervical spine as to avoid the referral of pain up into the head. Remember, treating the cause will positively influence the symptoms!
Step 3: Something easy you can do
Keeping record of your headaches is an extremely effective and easy strategy you can use to help stay on top of them. Showing this to your Chiropractor provides a greater insight into the nature of your headache and therefore the best approach to treatment. Things you should be taking note of include the date, day of the week, intensity (out of 10), duration, associated symptoms (e.g. nausea), medication use, triggers (food, drinks, smell, stress etc), where you are in your menstrual cycle and relieving factors/management.
Step 4: Managing this issue
Try and make a conscious effort to get familiar with your headaches, if you have any worries or concerns make an appointment with our highly skilled and passionate Chiropractors here.
Blanchard, E., Andrasik, F., Ahles, T., Teders, S., & O'Keefe, D. (1980). Migraine and tension headache: A meta-analytic review. Behavior Therapy, 11(5), 613-631. doi: 10.1016/s0005-7894(80)80001-3
Dodick, D., Rozen, T., Goadsby, P., & Silberstein, S. (2000). Cluster Headache. Cephalalgia, 20(9), 787-803. doi: 10.1046/j.1468-2982.2000.00118.x
Martelletti, P., & van Suijlekom, H. (2004). Cervicogenic Headache. CNS Drugs, 18(12), 793-805. doi: 10.2165/00023210-200418120-00004
Sjaastad, O., Fredriksen, T., & Pfaffenrath, V. (1990). Cervicogenic Headache: Diagnostic Criteria. Headache: The Journal Of Head And Face Pain, 30(11), 725-726. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4610.1990.hed3011725.x