How often do you wake up with a headache, or develop one during the day, take a painkiller and hope it goes away? Have you ever wondered why you get headaches or migraines, and what may be causing them?
Headaches are the body’s way of telling us that there is something wrong, and there are a host of reasons why you might get them.
Headaches are one of the most common health complaints and can be very disabling. Fortunately 90% are classified as a form of muscle tension and 6% fall into the migraine category. The rest are considered to be a rare or mixed category.
10 Tips to help prevent headaches:
1. Keep your neck mobile with general exercises
2. Check the ergonomics of your workstation.
3. Be very aware of your posture
4. Correct your bad habits
5. Relax your neck and shoulders
6. Check for any food sensitivities
7. Eat regularly of low glycaemic index foods to keep your blood sugar level
8. Eat organic foods to avoid oestrogens
9. Drink 1-2 litres of water a day
10. De-stress by meditating daily
There are different types of headache:
Generally, migraine begins with a dull ache and develops into a constant throbbing and pulsating pain. More women than men experience migraine and the pain is usually one sided but it can go from one side to the other. Migraines often start with visual problems and may be accompanied by a sensitivity to light and noise. There may also be nausea, vomiting and a stomach upset. Some people experience an ‘aura’ before the attack which are neurological symptoms and may manifest themselves as wavy or dotted lines in your vision, flashing lights and even tunnel vision in one or both eyes. In some people they just suffer the visual problems without the pain and with children they often experience just the stomach problems.
This is the most common of form of headache and is characterised by the tightening of muscles in the face and neck area, the tension often moving to the forehead. They occur randomly and are often the result of stress, anxiety, anger or fatigue. The headache begins in your forehead, temples or the back of your head and neck.
These are often characterised by short periods of intense pain which eventually subside only to return soon after. The pain is usually on one side of the head and often accompanied by a watery or bloodshot eye and a runny nose. They have in the past been more common in men that in women but the gap is shortening for some reason.
These are often the result of an underlying disorder or infection, such as a stroke, a blow to the head or a sinus infection, and medical attention should be sought. The sinuses may also become inflamed as a result of an allergic reaction to pollens, dogs, cats or other airborne allergens.
Taking regular medication for headaches may actually begin to cause rebound headaches. It is important to taper the medication that you are using by gradually substituting with another type of treatment. This can be challenging but it is important not to overuse drugs because they can have severe side effects.
These headaches originate from the neck and are caused by long periods in which the neck is held in an awkward position, poor posture, or a precipitated neck movement. Cervicogenic headaches are accompanied by restricted movement of the neck, shoulder and arm and you often find it difficult to pinpoint where the pain is coming from.
These headaches are characterised by pain on one side of the head and abnormal movements in the first three neck vertebrae. Cervicogenic headaches are diagnosed if there are symptoms such as joint pain and stiffness, muscle spasms or weakness and ligament strains in the neck.
The pain usually starts at the back of the head and drifts forwards worsening during the day. It can be pushing, throbbing or pressing, and usually it is a constant, achy, dull pain of mild/moderate intensity, but in 20 percent of cases the pain is severe. It can be preceded by neck pain and is aggravated by posture or movement during work or even at rest.
So why do we get headaches and what treatments are available?
As physiotherapists we see a great many people who suffer cervicogenic, and myogenic/tension headaches.
How do you differentiate between those and the other type of headaches?
You have a cervicogenic headache if:
- Your head pain is one sided
- Neck pain and/or stiffness precede the headache and sometimes last the duration
- The pain starts in the neck or back of the head
- It starts slowly and is of unknown origin or related to a trauma
- It is influenced by posture or movement, for example, sitting in front of a computer
These headaches can be associated with trauma, degenerative joint disease, jaw problems and micro–trauma due to repetitive movements or sustained postures (e.g. screen monitor work).
Muscle tenderness is common, and muscle tightness often results in altered postures and patterns of movement. Muscles working ineffectively can produce changes in joint control and movement patterns and muscles may change their function so that a ‘holding’ postural muscle becomes a movement producing muscle. Muscles are usually tight and overactive in the upper back, neck, shoulders and chest, whilst the muscles at the front of the neck are weak, lengthened and inhibited, resulting in possible changes in patterns of weight bearing, movement and posture.
Our aim is to mobilise the joints, improve your posture, loosen and stretch the tight muscles and encourage the correct muscle function.
2. Workstation assessments.
It is so important to have your workstation assessed so that you recognise any habitual postural movement patterns, and are able to change these dysfunctions. Habits are not easy to break, they are what we practise most often, e.g. leg crossing and arm folding and a poking chin when concentrating on your screen. We are often not aware of our habits or of the harm they may be doing, but it is important to learn to recognise them. It is only then that we can replace them with something less harmful. So we can give an exercise programme to help you to continue to improve your posture at your workstation and prevent further problems.
Massage helps to reduce stress and anxiety, increases the circulation and is a wonderful relaxant for muscle tension and spasm.
4. Cranial osteopathy
This aims to treat the whole person not just the condition and encourages the release of stresses and tensions throughout the body, including the head.
5. Alexander Technique
The Alexander Technique teaches that use affects functioning. If we misuse ourselves by, for example, acting rashly without thought, stiffening our neck muscles, disturbing the natural balance of the head, hunching our shoulders, holding our breath, collapsing, or holding ourselves in a straitjacket of tension, then our general functioning and well-being will inevitably deteriorate. By learning how to prevent or unlearn these harmful patterns of misuse, we can restore the natural poise most of us enjoyed as young children;
With migraines/headaches/cluster headaches I have found that 80% of sufferers have food problems. Having had 25 years of experience in sensitivity testing, it never ceases to amaze me that foods can play such a big part in peoples wellbeing. I test using the vega machine, which is a bio-energetic regulatory machine, and measures a resistance across the skin, and I have found that by taking the foods that you are sensitive to out of your diet for a period of time, the headaches disappear. The foods that come up are usually the foods that you eat on a regular basis and form the main part of your diet.
With most sensitivities they are masked which means that you do not necessarily react each time you eat the food, it builds up in the body and then as if the body has reached a limit the symptoms appear. So taking the foods out of your diet is not a life sentence, you will be able to eat them again in the future, but less frequently so that they do not build up in your system.
Other causes of headaches are:
- blood sugar imbalances and a lack of chromium: sugar is not just non-nutritive, it’s anti–nutritive and pro inflammatory, so it is important to cut sugar out from your diet as much as possible and a supplement of chromium will help to balance the sugar levels.
- hormonal imbalances: synthetic hormones are high profile these days. Industrial, agricultural, and chemical companies dump toxic substances into the environment. Many of these toxins mimic the effects of oestrogen. They’re called xenoestrogens and have been proven to wreak havoc with our oestrogen levels. Massive amounts of hormones are regularly injected in beef and poultry and by eating hormone-fed animal fat we can upset our natural oestrogen levels. Even the plastics used to wrap and heat foods release dangerous xenoestrogens, resulting in headaches, and other symptoms.
- dehydration: the human body is 70% water. It makes up 75% volume of our muscles and heart, 83% of our brain and kidneys, 86% of our lungs and 95% of our eyes. Water increases the oxygen in the blood and maintains the normal electrical properties of cells improving cell to cell communication. It is important therefore to drink at least 1-2 litres of water a day.
- stress: everyone experiences stress in their life to some degree or another. It is defined by Dr. Hans Selye MD, the father of stress, as ‘the non specific reaction of the body to any demand placed upon it’. Stress affects the balance of certain hormones and the factors that contribute are our emotions, lifestyle, diet, exercise, injury and environment. We transfer most of our stress to our neck and shoulders and, as mentioned, any tension there can cause headaches.
- jaw/bite dysfunctions: create muscle tightness around the jaw, face and neck which inturn can cause headaches and even migraines.
Supplements to help with headaches:
- Willow Bark has been used for many years to reduce pain
- B3 in the nicotinic acid (niacin) form is a vaso dilator. It will cause a ‘blushing’ sensation and increased heat and can often help a migraine or headache in the early stages
- SerraEzyme a protease enzyme that works as a natural anti inflammatory and pain reliever
- Feverfew, a member of the daisy family has been used as a migraine preventative if taken on a daily basis
- There are many homeopathic remedies that can help but it very much depends on the symptoms that you are suffering