Headaches – the hidden cause

Neck exercise to relieve headacheAnyone who has suffered from regular headaches knows how unpleasant and disrupting they can be. Many headache sufferers find it difficult to concentrate, to work or even carry out simple activities without feeling grumpy.

Jamie’s story

Jamie came to me here at Sundial because of six years of headaches that were affecting his work and his life with his partner. And things were getting worse. A recent increase of the frequency of the episodes made him realise he had to do something.

Headaches can be bad enough but Jamie’s symptoms started a journey all of their own. His pain was travelling from his neck to the top of his head on one side and travelling down to the shoulders and to between his  shoulder blades. He would always have the headaches during the week and only found respite at the weekends. A stressful day at work or being on a computer for long period of time was increasing the pain to unbearable levels so even painkillers were ineffective

Jamie has a job with a lot of responsibilities in a big company and needs to manage a team. He spends a lot of time sitting in meetings and even more staring at  a computer screen. Stress is a constant feature in his work.

When Jamie came to see he was keen to end this agony. After an examination I found that some of the joints in his neck were stiff and not moving correctly. The surrounding muscles were in spasm and were very sore to the touch. It was clear that Jamie was suffering from headaches caused by referred pain from the neck – so called cervicogenic headaches.

In Jamie’s case the dysfunction has been triggered by his repetitive poor posture, especially sitting at the computer for long periods of time.

Successful treatment begins

I started to treat Jamie for cervicogenic headaches, by addressing the cause. As a chiropractor I worked on the muscles of Jamie’s neck and shoulders applying gentle pressure to relax the muscle tension. I also used my hands to increase the mobility of his neck joints using gentle pressure.

But Jamie had to bring some change in his life as well. Here are the tips I gave him and it could help you too to deal with your cervicogenic headaches.

Jamie has now far fewer  episodes of pain and during a really stressful day at work, if the pain starts, he can decrease the intensity and the duration of the episode by himself using these tips

If you would like a free check up to see if chiropractic can help you then call to make an appointment or use our online booking above.

Headaches – a pain in the neck

Headaches sketchHeadaches can sometimes be caused by neck problems in disguise. This type of headache is called a cervicogenic headache. Evidence for the best way to treat this type of headache has been lacking – until now.

Cervicogenic headaches may respond well to manipulation, mobilisation and specific exercises a new study shows. This is good news because this type of headache accounts for one in five of all chronic or long-term headache symptoms.

The new headaches study is a review of lots of other studies. Pooling all the results in a so called meta-analysis is a great way to improve the power of individual studies and get some meaningful results. Although the results were not all clear cut in favour of manual therapy the trend seems to indicate that the sort of treatment used by chiropractors is likely to be effective of cervicogenic headaches.

Cervicogenic headaches are caused by muscle spasms or spinal joint problems in the neck. They affect women four times more than men for some reason. They are made worse by poor posture as well as activities that cause your chin to poke forward such using a laptop or a computer screen that is set too low.

Chiropractic treatment for cervicogenic headaches uses gentle adjustments to unlock the stiff spinal joints as well as deep muscle release techniques to improve the underlying causes of the pain. Our physio’s here at Sundial can also prescribe specific exercises after identifying the weak muscles in your neck and shoulders. Laser therapy or acupuncture needles may be used.

If you would like to know if we may be able to help you, give us a call and make an appointment to see us. If you a not sure whether this approach is for you then make an appointment for a check up at no charge. We will tell you whether your headaches are likely to be caused by neck problems and may respond to chiropractic and physio care.

Reference: Conservative physical therapy management for the treatment of cervicogenic headache: A systematic review. Racicki S, Gerwin S, DiClaudio S et al.
Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy 2013; 21(2): 113-24.

Headaches – Which type of headache is it?

If you are suffering from regular headaches the chances are that you regularly use painkillers to help alleviate the pain. You may also be taking anti-inflammatory medication or if you’re getting migraine headaches other exotic combinations of drugs. This headache treatment may help with the symptoms but does not address the underlying cause of the headaches. Fortunately there is another approach that research has shown to be effective for certain types of headache relief.  Chiropractic can offer significant help to certain types of headache.

The key to getting the right treatment is understanding which type of headache you have. It is not always that easy to know as you may have more than one type of headache going on at different times. There are 3 main types of headaches that may respond to gentle conservative care. They are:-

  1. Cervicogenic or spinal headache caused by neck problems
  2. Tension headache caused by tight muscles and/or stress
  3. Migraines

The other serious types of headache are caused by things like internal bleeds, infections and space occupying lesions which need urgent medical care.

The first step in successful treatment for headaches is to identify which sort you have then a programme of treatment can be suggested which may help.

Spinal Headache

Often called cervicogenic headache, in this type the pain is associated with neck pain and pain at the back of the head. Sometimes the muscles in the neck are tender to press. It may cause pain to the forehead, over the eyes or temples too. People often describe a vice like feeling around their head. The pain is often aggravated by certain posture or neck movements. Interestingly it often eases when lying down as the weight of the head does not have to be supported. People with this type of headache often have a history of many years of suffering with it.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most commonly diagnosed type of headache with four out of five people being told that this is the cause of their pain. Tension type headaches are characterised by a frequent, steady, dull ache on both sides of the head which can last for long time. People are able to get on with normal life in spite of mild light and sound sensitivity.

Most doctors think that tension headaches are due to tight muscles in the shoulder, neck or scalp. This has not been shown in the research however. It has been tricky to identify tightness in these muscles in spite of looking quite hard.  It is more likely that stress plays a bigger role that first thought. Stress, from work, daily-life and relationships has been found to be the most common headache trigger.

When we get stressed our adrenal glands release adrenalin which sensitises the pain receptor nerve endings in the body. In addition our central nervous system can become sensitised to on-going pain messages so that the pain persists even after the injury has gone. This is a plausible potential cause of tension headaches. It may also explain why manual therapy has been less successful at treating it. Traditionally tension headaches have been treated with massage, exercises and manipulation but results have been mixed. It might be that a simple switch to de-stressing type exercises and desensitising manipulation and mobilisation might be more effective.

Migraine Headaches

People often mistake a tension headache for a migraine and there are a lot of similarities in including the mechanisms that are thought to cause them. A good way to determine which type you have is to compare the symptoms.

Migraines are characterised by severe, one-sided, throbbing pain, often around one eye. They are often preceded by visual disturbances. They are relatively short lived but disabling often with extreme light and sound sensitivity as well nausea. Exercise tends to make them worse and lying down doesn’t help much.

Chiropractic care has been shown to help migraines (2.). Massage and acupuncture have also been shown to help.

If you would like a free check up to see which type of headache you have then give us a call to make an appointment.

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References

1. Stress and tension-type headache mechanisms. Cathcart et al. Cephalalgia 2010; 30(10): 1250-1267.

2. Manual therapies for migraine: A systematic review. Chaibi A, Tuchin PJ & Russell MB. Journal of Headache & Pain 2011; 12: 127-133.

3. Effectiveness of manual therapies: the UK evidence report. Gert Bronfort et al Chiropractic & Osteopathy 2010, 18:3