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Headaches Part 1 – Identifying the Main Players

January 10, 2011

If you’re in Guelph (or anywhere else in this connected world) and looking to find information on headaches then this is a good place to start.  In this three part series I’ll give an overview of some of the most common types of headaches, what you can do to manage them on your own, as well as in-clinic treatment options.

Headaches come in a variety of sensations, intensities, durations, and of course causes. Today we’ll be focusing on the more common headache types.  And while most headaches are benign in nature it’s recommended to see your chiropractor or other health professional for evaluation in order to rule out any other underlying causes.

Migraine (with and without aura)
Migraines are one of the most well known reasons people seek treatment for headache type pain.  Migraines present as a throbbing or pounding sensation typically affecting one side of the head.  It is often debilitating in nature.  Sometimes the actual headache portion of the migraine is preceded by an aura.  The aura may consist of the formation of a blind spot within the field of vision and accompanying flashing lights around the edges which can increase in intensity.  This is soon after replaced by the pounding headache sensation which typically can last anywhere from one to three days.  Patients often seek out a quiet, dark room in order to avoid aggravation of sensitivity to light and sound.  There may also be associated nausea and vomiting.

Common triggers for migraines can include variations in sleep patterns, environmental pollutants, medications, and specific foods including but not limited to:  chocolate, caffeine, nitrates, cheese, nuts, and wine.  Tightness and restriction of muscles and joints in the neck can also be associated with migraine headaches.

Tension Type Headache
Tension headaches are usually described as feeling like a tight band wrapping around the head.  Unlike migraines, tension headaches are most often felt on both sides and are steady in their pain as opposed to pulsing.  The headache may last for days or even weeks.

The underlying cause for tension type headaches is usually a buildup of trigger points (focal areas of tight and tender muscle) in the neck and suboccipital (base of the skull) region.  This is often due to, you guessed it, a build up of tension and increased or chronic stress. Some research indicates that tension type headaches are a part of a larger continuum of headaches where patients may start out with a migraine which then develops into a tension headache.

Cervicogenic Headache
These headaches can arise from dysfunction of pain referring structures in the neck.  Joints and muscles, when out of whack (that’s the technical expression), can become irritated locally and eventually refer, or transmit that local irritation to the head.   With cervicogenic headaches there may also be reduced movement in neck motion which can produce neck pain in addition to the headache.  These headaches may present on a daily basis.

There can also be overlap between cervicogenic headaches and other headache types. Dysfunction in the joints and muscles of the neck are often found in migraine and tension type headaches.  Again, daily stresses or even minor trauma can precipitate neck dysfunction and the resulting cervicogenic headache.

Headaches hurt.  If given the opportunity, I would suggest avoiding them.  If you can’t avoid them then check out the next two posts coming up on treatment options.  And if you know of someone having a headache, help them out, because they’re not having any fun.

For more information on headaches, treatment options or finding a chiropractor in Guelph, you can contact Guelph Chiropractors at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

photo credit:  Livingstudios

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