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Dr. Claudia Ng - Common Pain Series: 1. Headache Monday, March 31, 2014

Common Pain Series: 1. Headache

Headache is a very common condition in modern lifestyle.  According to statistics from the World Health Organization, 47% of the general population has suffered from headache at least once in the past year. The International Headache Society lists over a hundred categories of all headache diagnoses.

There are two main categories: primary and secondary headaches.  Primary headache means the cause of symptoms originates from the head and neck, while secondary headache means the symptoms are caused by conditions arising from outside the head and neck area.  The most common headache symptoms in everyday life are tension-type headache, followed by migraine, both belonging to the primary headache category.

Causes of Headache:

Tension-type headaches are triggered by stress and is related to lifestyle factors such as lack of sleep, poor sleep quality, irregular meal times, etc.  Using computers with a bad posture or for long periods of time may also contribute to muscle tension in the neck, subsequently causing tension-type headache.

On the other hand, migraine is caused by certain neurological chemicals released by the brain which irritate the nerves and blood vessels of the head.  Often, migraine sufferers have it since their youth.   Although most headache episodes have an insidious onset, irregular lifestyle habits do have a triggering effect. 


Tension-type headache feel like a  heavy pressure or a tight band going around the forehead, temporals, and the base of the skull.  With an intensity of mild to moderate pain, it usually starts after a long tiring day, and lasts from a few hours to a few days.

Migraine headache usually refers to pain affecting one side of the head, and feels like a spasm or pulsating pain.  About 10-20% of migraine sufferers have a pre-headache aura phase, which occurs around an hour before the onset of the headache attack with nausea or vomiting, avoidance of light or sound, or visual disturbances.  


Many people take pain-killers for headache.  However, they only provide symptomatic relief and may delay seeking proper treatment for recurrent episodes.  Moreover, a reliance on medication may cause rebound headaches, which means an exacerbation of symptoms once you stop taking the medications.  As there are many different types and causes of headache, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

If a diagnosis of tension-type headache is made, your chiropractor may provide appropriate treatments by adjusting the cervical spine and relieving the muscle tension around the neck and shoulders. He/she may also give you advises on proper posture and lifestyle habits.

Preventing headache:

  1. Maintain a healthy and routine sleeping habit.  A minimum of 8 hours of sleep per night will ensure sufficient time for recovery of body functions, in addition to improving overall pain tolerance.  For some people, headache is triggered by oversleeping during weekends or holidays when they try to make up for missed sleeping hours during the working week.  It is therefore advisable to maintain a normal bedtime and waking time as much as possible.
  2. Besides sleep, it is also very important to have regular meal times.  Do not starve yourself, as hunger is a signal of stress for the body which can easily trigger a headache.  Also, our body needs many essential nutrients for normal functioning, and its requirements increase especially when we're under stress and to remain focused.  For many, coffee is the solution to low energy; however, caffeine is a mild stimulant which may trigger rebound headaches.  It may be a healthy snack or a hearty meal that's needed instead!
  3. When a headache does happen, applying a heat pack on the neck and shoulder area can provide some effective relief.

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