Most everyone on earth has experienced a headache at one time or another. Did you know there are over 200 categories of headaches, each of which is clearly distinguishable in causation, sensation, and duration?
Headaches are broadly classified as "primary" or "secondary". Primary headaches are benign, recurrent headaches not caused by underlying disease or structural problems. While primary headaches may cause significant daily pain and disability, they are not dangerous.
Secondary headaches can be both harmless or dangerous. Certain "red flags" or warning signs indicate a secondary headache may be dangerous. They are caused by an underlying disease (infection), head injury, vascular disorders, brain bleed, or tumors. (source: Wikipedia)
Each has a name that tells its own story: migraine, cluster, tension, and thunderclap are just a few of the categories. Because of the large number of them, and the varied symptoms (as well as treatments), we will cover tension, migraine, and cluster headaches here.
What are They?
Chemical activity in your brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding your skull, or the muscles of your head and neck (or some combination of these factors) can play a role in primary headaches. The intensity and disabling factor can range in severity from slight discomfort above the eyes to disabling pain.
Primary headache may derive from alcohol, particularly red wine, certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates, changes in sleep pattern or a lack of sleep, poor posture, skipped meals, and even stress.
Tension headaches are the most common. Stress is a major contributing factor if not the cause. Tension headache symptoms include dull pain and tightness or pressure around your forehead, back of the head, and neck. Some describe the discomfort as feeling like a clamp squeezing their skull.
Often called stress headaches, they're the most common type for adults. These headaches can last from 30 minutes to a few days. The episodic kind usually starts gradually, often in the middle of the day.
Tension headaches are caused by tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp and jaw. Typically seen in those who are overworked, under-rested, with a poor diet, and frequent alcohol consumption, these headaches can be related to stress, depression, or anxiety. 65% of American males will suffer from tension headaches. (source: Migraine.net)
Chiropractic can Help
Researchers at the Duke Evidence-based Practice Center at Duke University found that spinal manipulation can almost immediately improve headaches originating from the neck. Releasing the tension that causes headaches can prevent the frequency of tension headaches by dealing with the source. Chiropractors working in a medically integrated clinic can also work to customize a stress-management plan with you, complete with nutritional suggestions and exercise plans that you can complete at home.
Cluster headaches are touted as the most severe headache because they can come on without any warning and occur in an intense attack-like method. The pain usually starts in or around the eye or temple, and an attack can last for about 15 minutes to 3 hours. These types of headaches are caused by the dilation of blood vessels around the fifth cranial nerve, which manages sensation around the eye, upper jaw, and lower jaw.
Maintaining a properly and completely balanced system is important to the treatment of these headaches. Establishing best practices for dealing with attacks, including an exercise routine, and establishing diet and lifestyle changes are all things that a chiropractor can work with you to create.
What are they and why are they so bad? Approximately 16% of Americans suffer from Migraines, and after tension headaches, they are the second most common type. The pain begins gradually and then intensifies over a period of minutes or hours. They can be made worse by light, noise, and motion. The worst cases involve nausea and vomiting and the only relief is found by lying in a darkened, quiet room.
These types of headaches typically last for a few hours, they can last for as long as three days. Another study out of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics reports that spinal manipulation therapy is comparable in effect to prescription medications.
Triggers and Warnings
Before an attack there is often a recognizable warning sign of the impending headache, and responding immediately will often stop it before it becomes intense.
Here are some triggers:
- Hormonal changes: Women may experience migraine symptoms during menstruation, due to changing hormone levels;
- Tiredness and insufficient sleep, shoulder or neck tension, poor posture, jet lag, and physical overexertion have all been linked to migraines.
- Stress, depression, anxiety, excitement, and shock can trigger a migraine;
- Diet Triggers: Alcohol and caffeine can contribute to triggering migraines. Some specific foods can also have this effect, including chocolate, cheese, citrus fruits, and foods containing the additive tyramine. Irregular mealtimes, dehydration, and low blood sugar have also been named as potential triggers.
- Some sleeping pills, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) medications, and the combined contraceptive pill have all been named as possible triggers.
- Flickering screens, strong smells, second-hand smoke, and loud noises can set off a migraine. Stuffy rooms, temperature changes, and bright lights are also possible triggers.
An aura is a blurred image usually in varied transparent colors that appear like a cloud in front of the environment. An aura can, and frequently does, occur before and during an attack.
The victim may have, confusing thoughts or experiences, the perception of strange, sparkling or flashing lights, zig-zagging lines in the visual field, blind spots, tunnel visions, or blank patches in the vision.
There can also be sensations such as pins and needles in an arm or leg, difficulty speaking, stiffness in the shoulders, neck, or limbs, and even unpleasant smells.
There is currently no single cure for migraines. Treatment is limited to preventing a full-blown attack, and alleviating the symptoms that occur.
Lifestyle alterations that might help reduce the frequency of migraines include: getting enough sleep, reducing stress, drinking plenty of water, avoiding certain foods, and regular physical exercise. Migraines are often managed through a course of medication. There are many different types of migraine medication.
Chiropractic to the Rescue
All of the studies by the major medical researchers and medical associations validated chiropractic as a source of relief and even cure of many of the types of headaches. This article clarifies that chiropractic is proper treatment for tension, cluster and migraine, the top three headache categories.
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