Headaches are one of the most common reasons why people visit a doctor. Tension type and migraine headaches are among the most common types of headaches, however sinus and high blood pressure related headaches are also common.
Regardless of the cause, one thing that all headache sufferers have in common is that they want their symptoms gone fast!
Many people choose to take medication to treat their headaches. Pharmaceutical companies make a lot of revenue from people taking pain medications both over the counter and prescription.
These medications may “numb” the nervous system so that the person does not “register” as much pain, but they do very little to get to the cause of the headache. After all, most headaches are not caused by a shortage of pain medication.
These powerful medications may be convenient but they can have a whole host of side effects including liver damage. I am often surprised by the number of people that I see that have been taking pain medication daily for months or sometimes years without getting to the real cause of the headache.
Sometimes headaches can be so bad that we think that there must be something really wrong in the head.
However, it is important to know that headaches are rarely a sign of a life threatening health problem. Headaches are a very common condition among people with issues relating to their neck, jaw and surrounding nerves and musculature.
Sometimes headaches are caused when the bones in the neck are not functioning properly to support the head. This can have an impact on the muscles, nerves and even the blood flow into the head. Research has shown that the most common types of headaches respond well to chiropractic care.
Doctors of Chiropractic work to identify areas where the spine not moving properly or the musculature is tense. These joints can cause the surrounding muscles to tighten up and can also irritate the nerves. This will often cause us to feel pain into our head. When the issues in these areas are corrected, the pain in the head often goes away.
What is the cause of headaches?
Headaches are your body’s way of telling you that something is not right. Your can get a headache for a variety of reasons. Some milder headaches can be brought on my excessive drinking or eating.
Other headaches may result from eye strain, not enough sleep, poor lighting, improper diet, stress both physical and mental to mention a few. In rare causes, headaches can be caused by conditions in the brain tumours, blood flow issues, or infections.
Doctors of Chiropractic are trained to ask the right questions and conduct a series of tests to determine the cause of the headaches. In rare causes, advanced imaging of the head such as MRI or CT scans may be indicated, however it is important to note that these studies are only needed in a very small percentage of cases.
Unfortunately, these expensive tests are ordered far to frequently. Most often the doctor or patient are looking in the wrong direction. Chiropractic doctors understand the that headache can often be the body’s warning signal that pain may be attributed to muscular tension, improper movement/misalignment of the bones in the neck.
This can lead to irritation of the nerves which exit the neck to supply the head and the face and can also contribute to small changes in blood flow in the vessels that supply the head and brain.
When this happens the headaches tend to become more and more frequent and can become very severe.
Can headaches be serious?
Most people will experience a headache at some point in their lives. Some are mild and occur in a specific area and the cause is easy to determine. Other headaches can occur much more frequently (sometimes constantly) and may involve nausea, vomiting, severe throbbing and sensitivity to bright light and sounds.
The person might be unable to complete their day to day tasks, unable to work or leave their bed. These headaches can be debilitating. They can affect vision, bring on pain and other sensations in other parts of the body, lead to depression and mood changes.
In many cases, to find relief the Australian public will spend millions of dollars a year on pain medications, nerve-numbing medications and anti-anxiety medications.
What can a Doctor of Chiropractic do to help?
Your doctor of Chiropractic will focus on correcting the neuromusculoskeletal cause of your headache. He or she will preform a thorough history and a special spinal examination to determine if you symptoms may be relieved with chiropractic care.
The examination will determine if you headaches may be caused by or made worse by the muscular tension, or the misalignment/improper movement of a vertebrae in the spine which may be causing irritation of the nerves that supply the head and face.
In some cases, Chiropractic treatment can provide immediate relief for some people. Every person is different, so the treatment approach is tailored to the individual to suit their symptoms, preferences and circumstances.
If your condition requires treatment from another health specialist your Chiropractor will refer you. Some people enjoy improvements in headaches very quickly, others notice a slow decline in symptoms over time.
If you have had headaches for many years, improvement can take time.
What if I do not have a headache when I come in?
Chiropractic care is not a band-aid. Repeated visits, even when you are feeling better can help to improve the function of the muscles and joints in our spine and can help to prevent problems from reoccurring. Just like it takes more than one or two workouts in the gym to get in shape, it takes time for your body to heal.
What if Chiropractic Care does not work?
Headaches may be common but they are not normal. If we are unable to find and address the cause of the headache, we can refer you to another specialist who may be able to help.
What can I do to help with the pain?
When people have a headache, they will often reach for their bottle of over the counter pain pills, however there are other common sense methods that might help to reduce the need for medication:
- Apply an ice pack or cool compress to the affected area to help “numb” the pain.
- Apply heat to the shoulder/neck muscles to help and relax the muscles
- Do a gentle massage to the back of the neck to help to reduce muscular tension that can build up from stress
- Lie down in a quiet room in a comfortable position using a rolled up towel or pillow to help and support the neck. Breathe.
- Drink a glass of water
- Avoid bright lights or noise.
- If you have been on your computer, take a break and walk around.
All too often people get used to taking medication right away when they have a headache. This may mask some potentially dangerous conditions.
Over-reliance of pain medication in lieu of a proper examination or diagnosis is not recommended. Early examination and diagnosis are important to ensure that you are getting the care that you require.
Consult your Doctor of Chiropractic for a consultation and evaluation and/or referral to another health care specialist.
What are some other tips that can help me avoid getting a headache?
- Maintain good posture to minimize stress on the joints and muscles in the neck and upper back (a Doctor of Chiropractic can help to advise you on some stretches or exercises that may be appropriate for you)
- Try to avoid potentially stressful situations if possible. Stress can contribute to a build up of tension in the neck which can contribute to headaches. If the stress cannot be avoided, discuss with your Doctor of Chiropractic some strategies to help cope with the stress more effectively.
- Make the time during your day to take breaks to relax, go for a walk, close your eyes or get some fresh air.
- Try to exercise regularly to stimulate blood flow throughout the body, relax the muscles and maintain joint movement.
- Get adequate rest so that you do not become overtired. But, try not to oversleep.
- Try to avoid sleeping on your stomach. Maintaining your neck in the rotated position can potentially irritate the joints at the top of your neck which can contribute to headaches.
- Good healthy food. Try not to overindulge in food or drink. Avoid smoking.
Dr. Alison Leitch has completed a 4 year Doctor of Chiropractic Degree and an additional 4 year Health Science Degree. She has also completed in the Medical Acupuncture Health Sciences program from McMaster University in Canada, and is skilled in a variety to soft tissue techniques to address problems related to muscles, ligaments, nerves and fascia. Dr. Alison’s area of focus is conditions related to the joints, spine, pelvis, nerves and muscles such as back and neck pain, headaches and arthritis. Dr. Alison Leitch practices in Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.