Dr. Anderson's Guide to Treating Headaches
Introduction to Headaches
Headaches are a very common condition that most people will experience many times during their lives. The main symptom of a headache is pain in your head or face. There are several types of headaches, and tension headaches are the most common. Headaches are a very common condition that most people will experience many times during their lives. They’re the most common form of pain and are a major reason cited for days missed at work or school, as well as visits to healthcare providers.
Who Do Headaches Affect?
Anyone can have a headache, including children, adolescents and adults. About 96% of people experience a headache at least once in their life.
About 40% of people across the world have tension-type headaches and about 10% have migraine headaches!
What is the Main Cause of a Headache?
Headache pain results from signals interacting among your brain, blood vessels and surrounding nerves. During a headache, multiple mechanisms activate specific nerves that affect muscles and blood vessels. These nerves send pain signals to your brain, causing a headache.
What Kind of Headache Do I Have?
There are more than 150 types of headaches. They fall into two main categories: primary and secondary headaches. Chiropractic has been shown to be effective with primary headaches.
Primary Headaches. The headache is the condition and not a symptom. They start in the nerves and blood vessels, or face and neck muscles. Nine out of ten headaches are primary headaches, including the following headache types.
Tension-Type Headaches. This is the most common type affecting between 30-78% of the general population. It is usually described as a constant ache or pressure either around the head, in the temples, or the back of the head and/or neck. There is typically NO nausea/vomiting, and tension-type headaches rarely stop you from performing normal activities. These headaches are typically caused by contraction of the neck and scalp muscles, which can be the result of stress, trauma, lack of sleep, eyestrain, and more. These headaches typically respond well to chiropractic care.
Migraine Headaches. Approximately 36 million Americans suffer from migraine headaches. Current pharmacological treatments are not very effective, and they may have dangerous side effects. Migraines are the second most prevalent neurologic disorder (after tension-type headaches), with a female-to-male ratio of 3:1 and an estimated 1-year prevalence of approximately 15% in the general population. The diagnosis of migraines is made clinically. There are no blood tests, imaging, or electro-physiologic tests to establish the diagnosis (3).
The common clinical characteristics of migraine headaches are:
The headache must last 4 to 72 hours.
The headache must be associated with nausea and/or vomiting, or photophobia, and/or phonophobia.
The headache must be characterized by 2 of the following 4 symptoms: unilateral location; throbbing pulsatile quality; moderate or worse degree of severity; intensified by routine physical activity.
Chronic Migraine. Chronic migraines are defined as a migraine headache that occurs at least 15 times per month, and is diagnosed when these characteristics are present:
The headache is episodic.
The pain involves half the head.
There is an aura.
There are associated gastrointestinal symptoms.
There is photophobia (light sensitivity) and/or phonophobia (sound sensitivity).
The pain is aggravated by the Valsalva maneuver and/or by the head-low position.
The migraine attacks can be triggered by the menstrual cycle; fasting; oversleeping; indulgence in alcohol; tyramine-containing foods [meats that are pickled, aged, smoked, fermented; most pork; chocolate; and fermented foods, such as most cheeses, sour cream, yogurt, soy sauce, soybean condiments, teriyaki sauce, tempeh, miso soup, and sauerkraut].
Migraine relief occurs with sleep.
In many cases, adjustments applied to the neck and upper back, especially when delivered BEFORE the migraine, can reduce the intensity and in some cases STOP the migraine from even starting!
Cervicogenic Headaches. The main distinction between the symptoms associated with cervicogenic headaches and those associated with migraine headaches are a lack of nausea, vomiting, aura (a pre headache warning that a headache is about to strike), light and noise sensitivity, increased tearing with red eyes, one-sided head, neck, shoulder, and/or arm pain, and dizziness. The items listed above are primarily found in migraine headache sufferers.
The following is a list of clinical characteristics common in those struggling with cervicogenic headaches:
Unilateral (one-sided) head or face pain (rarely is it on both sides).
Pain is localized or stays in one spot, usually the back of the head, frontal, temporal (side) or orbital (eye) regions.
Moderate to severe pain intensity.
Intermittent attacks of pain that last hours to days.
Pain is usually deep, non-throbbing, unless migraines occur at the same time.
Head pain is triggered by neck movement, sustained awkward head postures, applying deep pressure to the base of the skull or upper neck region, and/or taking a deep breath, cough or sneeze can trigger head pain.
Limited neck motion with stiffness.
The cause of cervicogenic headaches can be obvious such as trauma (sports injury, whiplash, slip and fall), or not so obvious, like poor posture. The cause of all cervicogenic headaches involves an intimate relationship between the upper two cervical vertebra (C1 & C2) and an anatomical connection to the covering of the spinal cord (the dura). Consequently, these headaches respond very well to chiropractic care.
Cluster Headaches. These are less common, typically affect men more than women, and occur in groups or cycles. These are VERY DISABLING and usually arise suddenly and create severe, debilitating pain usually on only one side of the head. Other characteristics include: a watery eye, sinus congestion, or runny nose on the same side of the face as the headache. An “attack” often includes restlessness and difficulty finding a pain reducing, comfortable position. There is no known cause of cluster headaches, though a genetic or hereditary link has been proposed. The good news is that chiropractic adjustments can reduce the intensity, frequency, and duration of cluster headaches!
Sinus Headaches. Sinusitis (inflamed sinuses) can be due to allergies or an infection that results in a headache. This may or may not include a fever, but the main distinguishing feature here is pain over the infected sinus. There are four sets of sinuses. Many people know about the frontal (above the eyes on the forehead) and maxillary (under the eyes in our cheeks) but the two sinuses deep in head (ethmoid and sphenoid sinuses) are much less known or talked about. These two deep sinuses refer pain to the back of the head, and when infected, it feels like the back of the head could explode. Lying flat is too painful so sitting up is necessary. Chiropractic adjustments applied to the sinuses, upper neck, and lymphatic drainage techniques work GREAT in these cases!
Secondary Headaches. A secondary headache is related to an underlying medical condition, and is the symptom, not the condition. Reasons for secondary headaches can range from something as simple as using pain medication too often, caffeine withdrawal, or something more severe like a tumor. These headaches typically do not respond to chiropractic treatment.
Beating Chronic Pain in Time for State
How a college dancer took back her life after suffering from chronic headaches.
Nicole wished things would go back to how they used to be. She was bursting with energy and enjoying her life before she fell and got a severe concussion. Now, plagued with headaches and chronic pain, she wondered how she was supposed to keep up with her fast paced life without compromising too many of the things she worked so hard for.
"She wondered how she was supposed to keep up..."
Before getting to a packed day with college classes, homework, and dance practice, she would take a few acetaminophen with breakfast. A few hours later she'd take a couple ibuprofen. Then rinse and repeat another few times.
Feeling defeated one day after having to sit out at dance practice because of another headache, one of hear teammates approached her.
"Nicole, my uncle is a chiropractor, have you ever been to one?"
She had never considered seeing a chiropractor. But her friend explained how tension in her neck from hitting her head could be causing her headaches, and a chiropractic adjustment could help.
Nicole couldn't believe what she was hearing. She didn't think anything could relieve her headaches and was willing to try pretty much anything. She accompanied her friend to her next appointment to get her first adjustment.
"She didn't think anything could relieve her headaches"
The chiropractor adjusted Nicole's neck so it would release the tension, and she felt a pop where it hurt the most. She couldn't believe the immediate relief. Nicole had a headache since she hit her head, unless she rested for an entire day.
The next day Nicole woke up with much more energy, finally free of the pain from her headache. She got through breakfast without taking pain relievers, and felt much more alert throughout the day. The headache came back at some point in the day, but it didn't hurt nearly as much as before.
She started visiting the chiropractor regularly to maintain and improve her condition. After a few weeks, she was back to rehearsing vibrantly at every rehearsal, participating more in class, and getting her homework done early. By the end of the semester, she was performing better than she ever had, and got to dance with her team when they won first at state.
I have upper back and neck problems, which lead to chronic headaches. I had been to many other places and never got relief, but Dr. Anderson got me on the impulse instrument and acupuncture, and I have been headache free for years. And when I do have a little kink, he heads it off.