There are many different types of headaches with a multitude of symptoms including achy, throbbing, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, numbness, blinding, noise, light and/or odor sensitivity, and more. The causes of headaches can include genetics (familial traits, like migraine headaches), stress or tension (probably one of the most common), environmental (allergies, seasonal, bright sunlight, loud noises, certain foods), behavioral (insomnia, excessive exercise, blood sugar problems, depression), and many more.
Environmental factors can “trigger” the onset of a headache. About 95% of headache sufferers have “primary headaches” such as tension, migraine, or cluster headaches. The other 5% may be caused by other physical conditions or problems and the headache serves as a “warning sign” that something else is wrong. The “key” in the 5% of potentially dangerous types of headaches is to pay attention to when there is a rapid onset (“…it came out of nowhere fast!”), if they are very intense, and are “different” from other headaches previously suffered. When nervous system symptoms occur that are unusual for that person, such as lapses in memory, the person is not responding, rapid onset of dizziness, balance disturbance, and/or a “blinding sharp pain,” these should trigger a warning sign that something specific and potentially dangerous may be causing the headache.
For the main 95% of headaches sufferers, neck tension is a common complaint with the headache. Research supports that spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), the primary form of care utilized by chiropractors, is an effective option for tension headaches. A 2001 Duke University study reported that SMT resulted in almost immediate improvement for participants with headaches originating in the neck with fewer side effects AND longer-lasting relief than those receiving commonly prescribed medication. Another study found that SMT was effective, not only for relieving the headache, but had a sustained benefit AFTER it was discontinued following a four-week treatment period. This was NOT seen in a similar tension-type headache group receiving prescribed medication treatment only.
Here is how to help yourself:
- Improve your posture: Most of us are “chin pokers” and “slouchers.” The weight of the head pulls on the neck and upper back muscles and when held in that fixed position while driving, typing, watching TV, the static muscle tension can create a headache.
- Take “mini-breaks” every 30-45 minutes from static fixed positions and perform some exercises. A good stretch is to reach over to the opposite side of the head and gently pull to stretch the sides of the neck. Repetitively, poke and tuck your chin in & out to stretch different muscle fibers. Then, add flexion, extension and/or rotation to the same movements for about 10 sec./side. Try it now!
- Avoid clenching your teeth and shrugging your shoulders. We do these things without being conscious that we’re even doing it. Those static loads play havoc with the neck muscles.
- Drink plenty of water – at least 8 oz., 8x/day (more when exercising or pregnant). If you want to be more accurate, take your current weight and divide by 2. (Eg., 130# person = 65oz./day; 190# = 95oz./day).
- If you have chronic headaches, visit a doctor of chiropractic to see if chiropractic care may help you find relief!