Nine out of 10 Americans suffer from headaches. Some are occasional, some frequent, some are dull and throbbing, and some cause debilitating pain and nausea.
What do you do when you suffer from a pounding headache? Pop a pill and hope the pain goes away? When taken in higher doses than recommended, commonly used over-the-counter pain relievers can increase the risk of serious health conditions such as ulcers, stomach bleeding, kidney and liver damage and even death. But there is a better option.
Doctors of chiropractic (DCs), who receive seven years of higher level education, are well positioned to diagnose and manage headaches. Research shows that spinal manipulation – most often performed by a DC – may be an effective option for managing specific types of headaches.
What causes headaches?
Headaches have many causes, or “triggers.” These may include foods, environmental stimuli (noises, lights, stress) and/or behaviors (insomnia, dehydration, excessive exercise, blood sugar changes). About five percent of all headaches are warning signals caused by physical problems. The remaining 95 percent of headaches are primary headaches, such as tension, migraine or cervicogenic headaches. These types of headaches are not caused by disease; the headache itself is the primary concern.
Three Kinds of Primary Headaches
- Contrary to popular belief, a migraine is not just a bad headache. It is an extremely incapacitating collection of neurological symptoms that usually includes a severe throbbing recurring pain on one side of the head and is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
- Tension-type headaches are the most common form of headache, occurring in about three quarters of the general population. Tension headaches are usually described as a pain that feels like a tight band around your head or a weight on top of it. Your neck or shoulder muscles may hurt along with this type of headache.
- A cervicogenic headache starts in the cervical spine – your neck. Sometimes these headaches mimic migraine headache symptoms. Initially pain may begin intermittently, spread to one side of the head, and become almost continuous. Pain can be exacerbated by neck movement or a particular neck position.
Headaches are a pain in the neck!
Most headaches are associated with muscle tension in the neck. Today, Americans engage in more sedentary activities than in the past, and more hours are spent in one fixed position or posture (such as sitting in front of a computer), that can increase joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back and scalp, causing your head to ache.
What can you do to help head-off a headache?
- If you spend a large amount of time in one fixed position, such as in front of a computer, typing or reading, take a break and stretch every 30 minutes to one hour. The stretches should take your head and neck through a comfortable range of motion.
- Low-impact exercise may help relieve the pain associated with primary headaches. However, if you are prone to dull, throbbing headaches, avoid heavy exercise. Engage in such activities as walking and low-impact aerobics.
- Avoid teeth clenching. The upper teeth should never touch the lowers, except when swallowing. This results in stress at the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) – the two joints that connect your jaw to your skull – leading to TMJ irritation and a form of tension headaches.
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to help avoid dehydration, which can lead to headaches.
Headaches and chiropractic care go hand-in-hand. While chiropractic care is not necessarily an option for treating all of these types of headaches, it is a great option for preventing future headaches. With regular adjustments, chiropractic patients can maintain proper spinal health and slow or stagnate the buildup of muscle tension. In addition to spinal manipulation, doctors of chiropractic can provide patients with exercises and nutritional advice that they can benefit from as well as tips to practice better overall posture.