How common are headaches?
Headaches are a very common condition, 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.
What are the signs of a headache that requires emergency attention?
- A sudden, severe headache of unprecedented intensity
- A headache that is accompanied by a stiff neck, fever, weakness and difficulty speaking
- A progressively worsening headache following head trauma
What is the chiropractic treatment approach for headaches?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
How effective is chiropractic treatment for headaches?
For a list of research on the efficacy of chiropractic treatment of headache, please click here.
What are the Recommended Treatments for Headaches?*
- Spinal manipulation - for restoration of joint movements
- Dry-needling - for pain relief and relax muscles
- Ultrasound Therapy - for reducing inflammation
- Interferential Current Therapy - for relaxing muscles and enhance circulation
- Shockwave Therapy - to speed up tissue healing
Author: Dr Claudia Ng, BSc, DC
* A proper diagnosis has to be obtained for all of the above conditions before an appropriate combination of treatments will be provided. This is just a list of possible treatments for the individual condition but not all of them may be necessary, nor is it limited to those listed only.
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