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Headaches

Headache - treatment

Most people describe a tension headache as a feeling of a tight band or dull ache around the head or behind the eyes. A common cause of tension headaches is subluxations in the upper back and neck.

Chiropractic care for headaches in Grimsby 

'Mae pen tost ofnadwy' - having done my training in South Wales this is a phrase I became used to hearing - roughly translated means 'I've got a terrible headache'. Unfortunately just about everyone suffers with headaches at some point in time but headaches can be very individual. Headaches can vary from a sharp pain, to a dull ache that may be very short lived or may go on for several days. Fortunately, very few headaches have serious underlying causes, but those that do require urgent medical attention.

The causes of headaches can be just as varied as their symptoms. The common causes are side-effects from medication, tightness in the neck muscles, low blood sugars, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), high blood pressure, stress and fatigue. The most common cause of recurrent headache is the cervicogenic headache.

Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches, are the most common type of headache, sometimes called tension headaches. Cervicogenic basically means originating from the neck. It is estimated that upwards of 75% of all headaches are cervicogenic in nature. Most people describe it as a constant dull, achy feeling either on one side or both sides of the head, often described as a feeling of a tight band or dull ache around the head or behind the eyes. Tension in the muscles supporting the neck, such as the trapezius and scalenes tends to build slowly during the day. Often as a result of stress or bad posture. This increase in tension causes the symptoms of a headache to slowly build. 

This sort of headache, can last from 30 minutes to several days. In severe cases, chronic tension headaches may persist for many months. Although the pain can at times be severe, tension headaches are usually not associated with other symptoms such as nausea, throbbing or vomiting. These symptoms tend to be more related to migraine type headache.  

Rectus capitis posterior minor (RCPM) muscle, is a tiny little muscle at the back of the skull. It's primary role is to help balance the skull on top of the first cervical vertebrae. This tiny muscle has some attachments that connect to the dura mater. The dura mater is a layer of the meninges that covers the brain. The dura mater is a very sensitive tissue. The RCPM is prone to spasm if over worked, people who spend a long time in front of computer struggle with this muscle. When the RCPM goes into spasm it applies tension to the dura and consequently causes headaches. 

Another cause of tension type headaches comes from referred pain from trigger points in the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) or levator muscle on the side of the neck. These are much more common in people who suffer a whiplash injury due to the muscle damage in the neck region. Cluster headaches are typically very short in duration and are usually felt on one side of the head behind the eyes.

Headache Trigger Points

Trigger point therapy for headaches tends to involve four muscles: the Splenius muscles, the Suboccipitals, the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and the Trapezius. The Splenius muscles are comprised of two individual muscles - the Splenius Capitis and the Splenius Cervicis. Both of these muscles run from the upper back to either the base of the skull (splenius capitis) or the upper cervical vertebrae (splenius cervicis). Trigger points in the Splenius muscles are a common cause of headache pain that travels through the head to the back of the eye, as well as to the top of the head.

The Suboccipitals are actually a group of four small muscles that are responsible for maintaining the proper movement and positioning between the first cervical vertebra and the base of the skull. Trigger points in these muscles will cause pain that feels like it's inside the head, extending from the back of the head to the eye and forehead. Often times it will feel like the whole side of the head hurts, a pain pattern similar to that experienced with a migraine.

The Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle runs from the base of the skull, just behind the ear, down the side of the neck to attach to the top of the sternum (breastbone). Although most people are not aware of the SCM trigger points, their effects are widespread, including referred pain, balance problems and visual disturbances. Referred pain patterns tend to be deep eye pain, headaches over the eye and can even cause earaches. Another unusual characteristic of SCM trigger points is that they can cause dizziness, nausea and unbalance.

The trapezius muscle is the very large, flat muscle in the upper and mid back. A common trigger point located in the very top of the Trapezius muscle refers pain to the temple and back of the head and is sometimes responsible for headache pain. This trigger point is capable of producing satellite trigger points in the muscles in the temple or jaw, which can lead to jaw or tooth pain.

Chiropractic Care for Headaches

Numerous research studies have shown that chiropractic adjustments are very effective for treating tension headaches, especially headaches that originate in the neck.

A report released in 2001 by researchers at the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham, NC, found that "spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those headaches that originate in the neck, and had significantly fewer side effects and longer-lasting relief of tension-type headache than commonly prescribed medications." These findings support an earlier study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics that found spinal manipulative therapy to be very effective for treating tension headaches. This study also found that those who stopped chiropractic treatment after four weeks continued to experience a sustained benefit in contrast to those patients who received pain medication.
Each individual's case is different and requires a thorough evaluation before a proper course of chiropractic care can be determined. However, in most cases of tension headaches, significant improvement is accomplished through manipulation of the upper two cervical vertebrae, coupled with adjustments to the junction between the cervical and thoracic spine. This is also helpful in most cases of migraine headaches, as long as food and lifestyle triggers are avoided as well.

Avoiding Headache Triggers

  • ​Stress may be a trigger, but certain foods, odours, menstrual periods, and changes in weather are among many factors that may also trigger headache.
  • Emotional factors such as depression, anxiety, frustration, letdown, and even pleasant excitement may be associated with developing a headache.
  • Keeping a headache diary will help you determine whether factors such as food, change in weather, and/or mood have any relationship to your headache pattern. Repeated exposure to nitrite compounds can result in a dull, pounding headache that may be accompanied by a flushed face. Nitrite, which dilates blood vessels, is found in such products as chemicals used to preserve meat. Hot dogs and other processed meats containing sodium nitrite can cause headaches.
  • Eating foods prepared with monosodium glutamate (MSG) can result in headache. Soy sauce, meat tenderiser, and a variety of packaged foods contain this chemical which is touted as a flavor enhancer.
  • Headache can also result from exposure to poisons, even common household varieties like insecticides, carbon tetrachloride, and lead. Children who ingest flakes of lead paint may develop headaches. So may anyone who has contact with lead batteries or lead-glazed pottery.
  • Foods that are high in the amino acid tyramine should also be avoided, such as ripened cheeses (cheddar, brie), chocolate, as well as any food pickled or fermented foods.

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