Let us Start Here
In this blog, we are going to explore what research has been saying about 3 common headaches and what you can do to treat them. We will also discuss bottom-line facts about headaches and why it is so important to have this knowledge as a headache-sufferer. Finally, we will discuss the best steps to take when considering treatment for your headache with a chiropractor.
As your local Overland Park, KS chiropractor, Dr. Ryan, and the Impact Health and Performance team see it as our job to make sure you have all the information you need to make the right choice for your health care. Let us dive in!
3 Types of Headaches
Migraine, cervicogenic headache, and tension headaches are the three most common headaches found in patients. Globally, it has been estimated that the prevalence among adults with a current headache disorder is about 50%. Half to three-quarters of adults in the world have had headaches in the last year and, among those individuals, 30% or more have reported migraines. Despite regional variations, headache disorders are a worldwide problem, affecting people of all ages, races, income levels, and geographical areas. (World Health Organization)
Why It Matters: Understanding is the first step in getting better
In this section, we are going to break down how each headache starts and what each headache looks and feels like.
Migraine What it is and where it comes from “Migraine” is a complex, chronic neurologic disorder characterized by recurrent moderate to severe headaches. The diagnosis of migraine is subdivided into “migraine without aura” and “migraine with aura”. “Aura” is the collection of autonomic nervous system symptoms that occur immediately prior to the headache. Aura symptoms may include visual disturbances, extremity paresthesia, nausea, vomiting, and hypersensitivity to light or sound. Before puberty, migraine is more common in boys. At puberty, this ratio flips, and adult females are three times more likely than their male counterparts to experience migraines. Migraines peaks in the third decade and attacks generally decrease in severity and frequency after age 40. The onset of a new migraine headache after age 50 is rare. Migraine headaches demonstrate a strong genetic component. Having a first-degree relative with migraine increases one’s risk fourfold. If one parent has migraines, the child has a 50% risk of developing the disorder. If both parents are affected, the risk climbs to 75%. Overweight patients are more susceptible to migraines. Low cardiovascular fitness increase risk. Vascular risk factors include hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, impaired insulin sensitivity, coronary artery disease, and a history of stroke. Medication overuse is one of the more important risk factors for migraine progression. Migraines tend to become “chronic” following overuse of acetaminophen, naproxen, aspirin, opiates, barbiturates, and triptans. One study demonstrated that NSAIDs were beneficial when used less than 10 days a month but induced migraine progression to a chronic state when used at a higher frequency. Hypocalcemia and vitamin D deficiency are associated with an increased risk of a migraine attack.
Migraine: How it looks and Feels
Migraine progresses through various symptomatic stages, including prodrome, aura, attack, and postdrome. The features of migraine headache, including prodrome, vary widely but tend to be consistent for any given individual. Approximately 60% of sufferers report prodromal symptoms in the hours to days before headache onset. These symptoms include lethargy, yawning, food cravings, mood changes, excessive thirst, fluid retention, constipation, diarrhea, and hypersensitivity to light, sound, or odors. About 20-33 percent of migraine sufferers experience auras during or before the headache attack. Aura symptoms develop slowly, over 5-20 minutes, and can last up to an hour. Symptoms are most commonly visual but may also include a combination of sensory and motor components. The most common visual symptom is a band of absent vision with an irregular shimmering border. Various other visual field defects, including tunnel vision, have been reported. Paresthesias are the next most common aura, occurring in 40% of cases. Paresthesias may be followed by a numbness that often begins in the hand and progresses up the arm, to the face, lips, and tongue. Less than one in five migraine sufferers experience motor symptoms, including a sense of heaviness in their limbs or speech and language disturbances.
During the attack phase, patients will typically complain of a unilateral, moderate to severe, throbbing, or pulsating headache. The pain may be felt anywhere in the head and neck but is most common in the frontal, temporal, and ocular areas. Headache pain develops over a period of one to two hours and can last between 4 and 72 hours. Patients often report hypersensitivity to sound or light and retreat to quiet, dark places. Hypersensitivity to smell is reported in nearly half of migraine patients. Eighty percent of migraine sufferers experience nausea. Vomiting occurs in 1/3-1/2 of patients. Seventy-five percent of migraine sufferers report some type of associated neck discomfort. Prodromal symptoms occur in the hours following a migraine and generally include fatigue, irritability, euphoria, myalgia, food insensitivity, or cravings.
Cervicogenic Headache: Where it comes from and how it looks and feels
The mean age for cervicogenic headache (CGH) is in the 40's, and the condition affects women more often than men at a rate of 4:1. CGH can be as debilitating as tension or migraine headaches, and a loss of cervical spine function compounds the problem. CGH is common in patients who have experienced trauma, especially a motor vehicle accident or an earlier concussion CGH patients present with neck tenderness and stiffness. CGH is unilateral without side shift, but in some cases, the condition may present bilaterally. Moderate to severe pain may begin in the cervical spine and progressively affect the occipital, temporal, frontal, or supraorbital regions. In some instances, the pain may affect the ipsilateral arm. Symptomatic episodes may last hours to days. The characteristic continuous, fluctuating pain is described as deep but generally not throbbing. Symptoms may be triggered or reproduced by sustained or awkward cervical spine postures.
Tension Headache Where it comes from and how it looks and feels
Tension Headaches are more common in women than men. They can occur at any age, typically the onset is during adolescence or young adulthood is common. These headaches are described as a constant, tight, pressing, or band-like sensation around the head. They often have an achy feeling that is often brought on by stressful situations, anger, excitement, or irritation. It is very common for these headaches to be at their max at the end of the day.
5 Management Options for these Headaches
Management of these Headaches can range from simple changes to complex drug approaches. For this specific blog, we want to layout simple, non-drug approaches to the management of headaches that can oftentimes be better for your body in the long run than frequent pharmaceutical usage.
- The first two things you can do is to get a full eight hours of sleep a night and drink the correct amount of water a day. Research has shown that getting enough rest a night can help prevent a wide range of medical conditions with headaches being one of them. Our body is roughly 70% water. Being well hydrated allows the body to move and function at a higher level. When we are dehydrated our brain and nervous system do not function very well which causes stress on the body. This stress can then form into a headache.
- The third thing is making sure you get enough exercise every day. This also us to release stress from our bodies. Exercise is also proven to release a chemical called dopamine which helps us feel good.
- The fourth thing you can do is schedule regular visits with your chiropractor. What happens with a lot of headaches is there are joint restrictions in the upper cervical spine. This lack of motion causes the body to send mixed signals to the brain. This causes stress to the system and which makes muscles tighten up and become tense. By going to the chiropractor, we can get these joints moving and relieve this tension and stress.
- The fifth and probably the most important thing you can do is change the environment that is triggering the headache. This could be as simple as getting a standing desk to an extreme case of searching your home for mold. While these are just examples, the goal is to understand the trigger for the headache and try to get you out of that environment/setting. While you can have all the access to treatment and management options you need, if you keep exposing yourself to the trigger, the chances of preventing future headaches go down.
Your Next Step to getting back to Doing what Matters Most to You
This is not a local Overland Park, KS problem - this is a global issue. By changing some daily habits and adding some preventative measures, we can save money on the cost of drug therapies and reduce the chances of time away from work. If you find yourself using more and more sick days, canceling on events, or having to take medications due to frequent or severe headache symptoms, we encourage you to come in and have a consultation with Dr. Ryan. We provide a hands-on, non-drug approach to health care. Contact us today to get started on a treatment plan to get you back doing what matters most to you.