Everyone gets headaches to some degree from time to time, and many people experience debilitating headaches on a regular basis. Headaches are one of the most common disorders of the nervous system and result in the third most common cause of years lost due to disability. The impact of headaches is a major burden to society. The problem with headaches is there are dozens of different types, and each type has a different cause, and therefore different recommended treatment. For this article, I want to focus on three of the most common types of headaches; migraines, medication-induced, and tension-type.
Migraines are a common type of primary headache disorder, meaning they are caused by something that originates within the body. The specific, absolute cause of migraines differs from person to person, but the mechanism across the board has something to do with inflammatory substances deep within the head affecting the nerves and blood vessels of the brain. Migraines can be different for everyone, but are most commonly characterized by being one-sided, moderate to severe intensity, pulsing, and can often be accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Treating migraines can be difficult, but I recommend that people suffering from them begin a food log and try to identify dietary triggers that may spark a migraine. Common food triggers to watch for include alcohol, chocolate, food additives, cheese, and processed grains.
Medication-induced headaches (MIH) are caused by either excessive or chronic medication use, or changes and cessation of medication resulting in withdrawal. MIH are the most common type of secondary headaches, meaning they are caused by a foreign substance or trauma – anything from outside the body. Common medications to be careful of regarding MIH include narcotics and other painkillers, as well as hormone-related medications, especially in women. If you or a loved one think you are experiencing MIH, the first thing to do is work with your doctor or pharmacist to try to find a different medication, or better yet try to find a natural solution to your problem.
Tension-type headaches are the most common form of primary headaches. They are most commonly caused by musculoskeletal conditions of the neck, including joint dysfunction, muscle tension, and vertebral disc issues, which can often affect the nerves in this area. Episodic tension headaches, meaning they affect the patient less than 15 days per month, are very common, with an estimated 70% of the population experiencing them at some point. Chronic tension headaches, or headaches occurring more than 15 days per month, affect between 1-3% of the population. The great news is that because tension headaches are musculoskeletal in origin, musculoskeletal treatment is often enough to fix the problem. Chiropractic adjustments directed toward the upper part of the neck are particularly effective for tension headaches. The adjustment will improve joint function, resulting in relaxed muscle tone, less stress on discs, and proper nerve function. This combination could be just the ticket to your headache relief!
Yours in Health, Dr. Alex