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How common are headaches?

Headaches are a very common condition around the world, with one in twenty adults suffering from chronic headaches on a daily basis. Headaches can be extremely debilitating, and can be a contributing factor in the development of other types of diseases, including depression.

Headaches are pains located within the head and sometimes neck. While the International Headache Society has defined more than 14 types of headaches, the most common ones are tension-type headaches and migraine headaches.

What are the causes of headaches?

Tension-type headaches, which are caused by physical and/or mental stress, are the most common type of headache: they affect 67% of men and 80% of women (WHO). Their onset is usually related to muscle tension (trigger points) in the neck that produces pain that radiates into the head region. Tension-type headaches are usually mild to moderate in intensity and are often described as a having tight band around the head, a dull ache in the forehead/temporal region, or even eye strain.

Migraine headaches may be preceded or accompanied by specific symptoms (auras), including: visual disturbances (blind spots or flashing lights), nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, weakness/numbness on one side of the body or extreme sensitivity to light/sound.
The pain is usually confined to one side of the head, although both sides can be affected. Migraine headaches often generate throbbing or pulsating pain of moderate to severe intensity. The experience can be excruciating and may incapacitate an individual for hours or days.

Migraine headaches, which affect up to 17% of women and 6% of men, can be triggered by hormonal changes (especially in women), certain foods (like alcohol, cheese, chocolate, MSG, etc.), strong sensory stimuli (bright lights, loud noises, strong odours, etc.), physical exertion and stress.

"Cervicogenic headache is referred pain (pain perceived as occurring in a part of the body other than its true source) perceived in the head from a source in the neck. It is a secondary headache, which means that it is caused by another illness or physical issue. In the case of cervicogenic headache, the cause is a disorder of the cervical spine and its component bone, disc and/or soft tissue elements. Numerous pain-sensitive structures exist in the cervical (upper neck) and occipital (back of head) regions. The junction of the skull and cervical vertebrae have regions that are pain generating, including the lining of the cervical spine, the joints, ligaments, cervical nerve roots and vertebral arteries passing through the cervical vertebral bodies." (American Migraine Foundation)

What is the chiropractic treatment approach for headaches?

  1. Pain reduction - For both acute and chronic pain, the goal of treatment initially would be to reduce the pain, or to “break the pain cycle”. As the pain level is reduced, the muscles will relax, reversing the pain cycle.

  2. Restore normal joint mechanics – Depending on the examination findings, your chiropractor will then adjust (manipulate) the vertebral joints that are misaligned (subluxated) to restore proper movement within the joints. This may take place on the first treatment or on any subsequent treatments as deemed necessary.

  3. Improve flexibility and strength – Especially for tension-type headaches, it is important to improve the flexibility of the joints and muscles. Your chiropractor will advise you on appropriate stretching and strengthening exercises according to your physical needs and fitness level.

  4. Lifestyle adjustments – Other factors like exercises, diet, working posture, sleep etc. may play a vital role in the development and otherwise prevention of head and neck pain.  Your chiropractor will work with you to identify lifestyle adjustments that will help you maximize the quality of your health.

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Pain Care Chiropractic, PLLC