Most people worldwide have suffered from a headache at some point over their lifetime, but how was it induced? There are hundreds of causes that trigger headaches. We are not going to discuss every single cause because it would simply be endless content, but we will discuss the three most common types of headaches. We will also discuss what we can do to help.
What is a Headache?
A headache is a constant pain or sensation in the head that can come on suddenly or gradually. Headaches can be described as dull, achy, throbbing, pounding, sharp, stabbing, or piercing. It is
very important to recognize the sensation of pain and the location of pain because a doctor
may be able to determine what type of headache is present. Its essential that the doctor takes
an accurate health history and conducts a thorough examination, because by performing a
precise set of tests, the doctor may be able to determine the type of headache that is present
and what could have triggered it.
Most headaches are minor and can be self-managed, but there are a few types of headaches that are severe and need to be referred out immediately. If you are experiencing a headache associated with muscle weakness, face drooping, difficultly speaking, or confusion, call 911 immediately. If you frequently experience severe headaches at night, we recommend calling your primary care physician for further evaluation.
What Are the Three Most Common Types of Headaches
If someone is experiencing their first headaches, chances are that they are experiencing one of the three most common. The three most common types of headaches are migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches. We will discuss each separately in greater detail.
If you have never experienced a migraine, consider yourself lucky. Migraines are
described as pounding or throbbing and can cause photophobia (sensitivity to light)
and/or hyperacusis (sensitivity to sound). Migraines can be brought on without warning
and can last a few hours to a few days. Below is an image of the typical pain location for
a migraine headache. Most migraines occur on one side; however, they can occur
The cause of migraines isn’t fully understood, but research shows that specific nerves in your blood vessels send pain signals to your brain. This releases inflammatory substances into the nerves and blood vessels in the head.
The two most common types of migraines are migraines with an aura, and migraines without an aura. An aura is a warning sign that a migraine is on the horizon. Flashing lights appearing in the vision is the most common symptom to occur with a migraine with an aura. A migraine without an aura occurs without warning. Below is an image showing the 4 stages of a migraine headache and the symptoms that may be present.
- Tension Headache
A tension headache is a mild to moderate dull pain that is usually described as having a
tight band wrapped around the head. Pain can also be located on the sides and back of
the head and tenderness in the scalp, neck, and shoulder muscles. Below is an image of
the typical pain location for tension headaches.
Unlike migraines, tension headaches are more clearly understood as to why they occur. Tension headaches typically occur due to physical and/or emotional stress. Physical stress relates to poor posture: Slouching, neck jutted forward and/or downward, and hunched shoulders. Doing this for long periods of time results in tight muscles at the base of the skull that can create tension headaches. When someone is emotionally or mentally stressed, hormones are released that trigger nerve interference and may cause muscles to tense.
- Cluster Headache
Cluster headaches are rarer than migraines and tension headaches but are more
common than most other headaches. A cluster headache is easier to distinguish
between a migraine or tension headache because of the classic signs with which it
presents. There is no exact cause as to why cluster headaches occur. Cluster headaches
typically awaken patients in the middle of the night with intense unilateral pain around
the eye. Most patients also present with teary eyes and a runny nose during the attack.
Below is an image of the typical pain location for cluster headaches.
One single attack can last anywhere between 15 minutes and three hours. Most attacks occur individually at the same time each day; however, they also can occur multiple times a day. Most people experience what is called episodic cluster headaches. Episodic cluster headaches occur for one week to a year, followed by a pain-free remission period lasting 3 months or longer before another cluster headache develops.
What Can We Do to Help?
Many studies on headaches conclude that there is no exact treatment or cure for the headache types that we discussed today. There are several different prescribed medications used to manage migraines, but there is not enough evidence to determine if they help or not. Does that mean if you start experiencing headaches that you will suffer the rest of your life? No. Aside from spine pain, headaches are one of the most common conditions chiropractors treat successfully. Over the past several weeks, we mentioned a term known as nerve interference. Just like within the extremities, nerves surround the path of the face and head. When nerve interference is present in the cervical and thoracic regions, it is not uncommon to experience migraines or tension headaches. Cluster headaches are rarely seen in a chiropractic setting.
Whether your chiropractor is a manual adjuster, uses a drop technique, uses an instrument, performs muscle work, or uses therapeutic modalities, each chiropractor’s main goal is to remove nerve interference associated with the headache.
A few key notes:
*Use ice for migraines and heat for tension headaches. For more information, look back at our
blog on ice vs. heat.
*Make sure to have correct posture and avoid looking down at your phone. This can cause
reversed spinal curves, tight neck/back muscles, and headaches.
*Make sure any doctor you see for a headache takes a proper health history and conducts a
thorough examination. Performing these tests will help rule out life threatening situations.
*If you are experiencing a severe headache, arm weakness on one side, slurred speech,
confusion, and/or face drooping, call 911 immediately.
If you learn one thing from this week’s blog, it’s don’t mess around with headaches. Most are mild cases, but if something doesn’t seem right, see a doctor immediately. For more information or questions about headaches, please call us at (724) 547-3377 and checkout our website at www.drlarrywilkinsspinalcare.com for more content.
Yours In Health,
Larry E. Wilkins, DC
Brian M. Steinert, DC