Headaches are one of the most common disorders of the nervous system yet are under-recognized and under-treated. Over 90% of men and women have had at least one headache and over 50% have had a headache in the past year. A 2013 Global Burden of Disease study found headaches to be the third-highest cause of years lost due to disability. Despite being common, it is important to distinguish between how they start, what they feel like, and where they are located. It’s important to always seek medical attention if your headache has followed trauma to the head, neck, or spine.
Here are 5 headaches that are commonly confused with one another:
Tension-type headaches are one of the most common types of headaches, occurring at least once in up to 78% of people. They can range from mild to disabling and can feel like a tight band over the forehead and temples. These headaches can have a variety of causes such as stress, medication overuse, soft tissue injury, neck subluxations, and more.
Migraines are categorized with, or without, an aura. An aura is a temporary change in vision (such as flickers of light) or changes in smell. The American Migraine Foundation estimates that 39 million Americans live with these headaches-types. The exact mechanisms of a migraine’s origin are not well understood but are speculated to have neurophysiological causes with environmental and physical triggers. Imagine an enclosed glass bottle; Each trigger increases the pressure within the bottle until it’s too much and the bottle cap pops off stimulating the migraine. A trigger can be a certain type of food or physical stress. Migraines can last up to 3 days and are one-sided, with moderate to severe pain. They can also be accommodated by nausea and light sensitivity. For chronic sufferers, these changes can prelude the migraine and may give an early warning that a migraine is oncoming.
Runny nose, pressure around the eyes and face, and/or a throbbing head are all symptoms of a sinus headache. Sinusitis occurs when the sinuses become inflamed from a foreign substance such as pollen, a virus, or bacteria. During allergy season this inflammation can cause congestion, preventing mucous from passing through easily. Many times, migraines can be misdiagnosed as sinusitis. Due to this, sinus headaches are on the rarer side, so it is important to note other disabling features and symptoms associated with your headache to give an accurate diagnosis.
A build-up of pressure from intense activity, such as heavy cardio or strength training, can be felt in an exertional headache. High training activities can build up strain on the whole body but are intensely felt in the head. Typically, these headaches are short-lived but could last up to a couple of days. These headaches aren’t related to any disease and are typically triggered by intense training that has caused the blood vessels to dilate.
These are secondary types of headaches, which means the headache is a symptom of another condition, like medication overuse. The term cervicogenic means pain originating from the neck. The pain is not specific to one location. For example, a tension-type headache can be felt in the head but may radiate and originate from biomechanical dysfunction of the neck. This is why it is ever so important to know where the headache is coming from. Having poor biomechanics of the cervical spine can trigger, or make you susceptible to, any of these headaches listed above.
How Chiropractic can help your headaches.
With each of these headaches, the neck may be involved in some form or another. For example, with migraines and using the bottle analogy, dysfunction of the neck is a huge trigger by itself. And so, there is very little space remaining for other triggers before the pressure causes the cap to pop off. Therefore, by eliminating subluxations in the neck and restoring function, a chiropractor can significantly improve the build-up of triggers. Many are advised to remove tannin and tyramine-rich foods from their diets, such as wine and cheese, because these are big triggers for headaches. In addition, why not remove the cervical trigger so that you can leave more room for other life stressors without having to worry about a migraine coming on? Now, more than ever, is your opportunity to get your life back. Come see for yourself what I can do for you!