Headaches Are Common but NOT Normal
Headaches are definitely not normal, but they are extremely common in our society. Nearly everyone has an occasional headache, but the frequency for some people may surprise you. About 15% of our population experiences a headache at least once per month, but some estimates show that up to 5% of adults have a headache every – or nearly every – day. This represents a large number of people living with constant, debilitating pain. Due to this fact, headaches are not surprisingly one of the most common causes of disability. They are also one of the top reasons for visiting a doctor. More than 250 million work days are lost each year due to headaches at a cost of 25 billion dollars per year. Although headaches affect the entire population, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from headaches.
Some people estimate that there are over 100 different types of headaches; however, 4 types are most prevalent. Headaches are broadly categorized as primary or secondary. Primary headaches are recurrent headaches that are not caused by underlying disease or structural problems. 90% of headaches are primary headaches. Secondary headaches are caused by some underlying disease or condition. Tension headaches and migraine headaches are by far the most common types of headaches, but cluster headaches and sinus headaches round out the important 4:
Different Types of Headaches
- Tension Headaches: This is the most common type of headache among adults and teenagers. Tension headaches are also known as stress headaches, chronic daily headaches or chronic non-progressive headaches. Such headaches normally begin slowly and gradually in the middle of the day. The person can feel as if they have a tight band around the head; a constant, dull ache on both sides; or pain spread to or from the neck. Tension-type headaches can be either acute or chronic causing mild to moderate pain that comes and goes over time.
- Migraine Headaches: They can last from a few hours to a few days and usually occur one or more times a month. People usually have other symptoms with migraines, including: sensitivity to light, noise or smells; nausea or vomiting; loss of appetite; blurred vision; and upset stomach. A migraine headache may cause a pulsating, throbbing pain usually only on one side of the head. Migraines are the second most common form of primary headache and can have a significant impact on the life of an individual. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), migraine is the sixth highest cause of days lost due to disability worldwide.
- Cluster Headaches: These headaches are the most severe. The pain is intense and can feel like a burning or piercing pain behind the eyes. Cluster headaches occur in groups over a period lasting from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. They may go away for months or years, but then come back. The pain caused by cluster headaches is one-sided, severe, often described as sharp or burning, and typically located in or around one eye. The affected area may become red and swollen, the eyelid may droop, and the nasal passage on the affected side may become stuffy and runny. Although headaches generally impact women more often than men, cluster headaches affect men more than women.
- Sinus Headaches: Inflamed sinuses can cause pain in your cheeks, forehead and bridge of your nose. Pus and debris accumulation can cause pressure. Usually other sinus symptoms, such as a runny nose, fever, pressure in the ears and facial swelling, occur at the same time.
Just as there are many different types of headaches, there are also many causes of headaches. The scary thing is that research shows that only 10 percent of headaches have a definitive etiology or cause. Unfortunately, we have a healthcare delivery system that tends to focus on symptoms and effects rather than getting to the root cause of the problem. Every headache is just an effect with an underlying cause. Some potential causes include changes in pressure due to weather changes, fatigue and lack of sleep, sensory stress (i.e. light and sound), food sensitivity, medications, postural stress, hormonal changes, and other problems such as chronic eye strain, high blood pressure and improper diet. In rare cases, headaches can be attributed to more serious conditions such as brain tumors, stroke, meningitis or diabetes.
Why you are experiencing the pain?
Getting relief from pain is great, but better than covering up the pain is finding out why you are experiencing the pain in the first place and correcting that. Even though there are many causes or factors that may contribute to the development of headaches, there are many actions that you can take to alleviate or avoid headaches. First would be to address stress. Stress activates our sympathetic, or fight-or-flight, nervous system. This part of the nervous system is housed in the thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine. When we are in a stressful situation, it kicks into gear. Short-term use of the sympathetic nervous system is beneficial to help us fight off a bear or get our project done before a big deadline at work. However, after the stressful situation is over, we are supposed to turn the sympathetics off. This doesn’t occur in our busy lives and our sympathetic nervous system is chronically “on.” Sustained sympathetic tone increases our blood pressure and tenses our muscles, which both can contribute to headaches. Turning the sympathetic nervous system off can be very beneficial and can be achieved by meditating, deep breathing exercises, getting adjusted, and more.
Stretching is also helpful in alleviating or preventing headaches. Many times, due to posture, stress, sitting at a desk all day, etc., the muscles in our neck, in our shoulders, in between our shoulder blades, and at the base of our skull are very tight and tense. Four basic stretches can be done to loosen these muscles. First is the chin tuck. This is where you draw your chin straight back so that your ear lines up with your shoulder. Second is cervical extension. Lean your head backward so that you are looking up toward the ceiling. With your head all the way back, gently apply pressure upward on the bottom of your chin lifting it toward the ceiling. The third stretch is the shoulder roll. Raise both shoulders up toward your ears, then pull them back, then drop them down before returning them to the neutral position. You can perform a forward shoulder roll too. Finally, try a trapezius stretch. Our traps are notorious for holding tension and developing trigger points. Gently pull your left ear toward your left shoulder. You can slightly drop your right shoulder downward to get more of a stretch. Repeat to the other side.
Additional actions that may help reduce headaches revolve around nutrition, hydration, and screen time. Reducing (or eliminating) inflammatory foods such as sugars, grains, dairy, and especially gluten can have a positive impact on headache symptoms. Inflammation can occur anywhere in the body. We give it a name based on what area hurts. In the joints, we call it arthritis. In the head, we call it a headache. Other foods or additives such as MSG and caffeine can also contribute to headache symptoms. Considering a detox to rid these system-irritating foods from your body can be greatly beneficial for your symptoms. Hydration is another important factor for headaches. Many people who are chronically dehydrated experience headaches. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day to allow your body to function to the best of its ability. The last suggestion would be to limit screen time. Eye strain can lead to headaches. It is smart to get your eyes checked to make sure you don’t need glasses or a change in prescription. In addition, staring at computers, phones, tablets, etc. can cause tension on your eyes. Consider reducing screen time, especially at night.
Great success with patients!
If you implement these suggestions and are still suffering from headaches, then schedule an appointment with an 8 Weeks to Wellness doctor near you. Our team has had great success with patients complaining of headaches in the past. We would love the opportunity to evaluate you and see if we can help you get on the right track. Many of the services that we provide are extremely effective in helping reduce the pain and dysfunction caused by headaches.
- Chiropractic Care: A study produced in the mid-1990’s revolutionized headache research. A Russian-born researcher named Dr Nikoli Bogduk determined that nearly all headaches shared a relationship with the neck. Dr. Bogduk noted that almost every single headache sufferer shared an important connection, abnormal nerve function in the upper neck. The upper neck vertebrae are especially important due to their relationship with and proximity to the brainstem and transition area from the brain to the spinal cord. Our chiropractors identify areas of nerve dysfunction in the neck and correct them using gentle, specific adjustments. These adjustments not only improve the communication between the brain and body, but they also reduce the stress on your body and allow your body to deal with the continual stresses being applied to it. It is important to get your spine checked (especially your neck) if you are dealing with headaches.
- Posture Rehab: Posture issues, especially forward head posture, can increase tension and strain on the muscles and nerves in the neck and have been associated with migraines. For every inch forward that your ear moves in front of your shoulder, it adds 10 pounds of force to the neck and upper back. We spend a lot of our time with our head in flexion (i.e. on the computer, texting). This causes a loss of the normal curve in the neck which increases the stress and strain on the nerves and muscles. We suggest the use of a Denneroll for many of our patients. It is something that you can use at home to reverse the negative effects of constant flexion. The Denneroll allows you to extend and mirror image the posture we are in majority of the time. This can help restore the curve in the neck; thus, it reduces stress and strain on the muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves.
- Massage: Massage is an amazing therapy to reduce the tension in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper back. Too often in people who suffer from headaches, these muscles are tight and fatigued from being consistently overworked. It is common for them to develop trigger points too. Our massage therapists utilize many techniques to be able to deliver what your muscles need to relax, de-stress, and function better. Massage is also beneficial because it can stimulate cellular detoxification which may help reduce headache symptoms too.
- Nutritional Supplements: We offer many high-quality nutritional supplements backed by research. One major supplement that people with headaches should consider is magnesium. It is estimated that over 50% of people are deficient in magnesium. This is especially important for individuals with headaches because magnesium acts as a natural muscle relaxer. Because of this, magnesium is key to take during times of increased stress. Make sure to ask about our Calm supplement.
- BrainTap: BrainTap is like meditation for dummies. It incorporates light and sound therapy to relax your body and reduce the effects of stress. It helps tone down the sympathetic nervous system. It is easy to use, very effective, and perfect for the person who thinks that they can’t meditate.
Headaches are a big issue in our society, but they don’t have to be a part of your life. You just need to figure out what is causing them and then you can fix it. Try reducing stress, stretching, and addressing potential nutritional issues. If you are still dealing with headaches, then let us help. We can specifically evaluate you and develop a personalized plan to get you the best results possible. Call an 8WW office to schedule an appointment to address your pain and get you moving on a road to better health!