Headaches are common, but they aren’t normal. If you have a headache, it’s a sign that something in your body is out of balance. Headaches are usually not life-threatening, but they can be miserable. When they occur frequently, they can impact a person’s ability to work and function.
There are two categories of headaches: primary and secondary. A primary headache is when the headache itself is the main problem. These headaches are caused by inflammation of blood vessels, nerves, or muscles around the head or neck. Migraines, tension headaches, and cluster headaches are all primary headaches.
When an underlying condition causes a headache, it’s known as a secondary headache. Some secondary headaches can be a sign of a serious condition like dangerously high blood pressure or concussion. In these cases, you should see a doctor right away. There are also less serious causes of secondary headaches like sinus pressure, hormone fluctuations, or withdrawal from caffeine or certain medications.
Here are five common types of headaches that your chiropractor can treat:
1. Tension Headache
Nearly everyone experiences a tension headache at some point. They aren’t dangerous, but boy, are they miserable. Tension headaches are caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck. Some people experience tension headaches occasionally, but for others, they become a chronic problem. Women are twice as likely as men to experience tension headaches.
You may have a tension headache if the pain is mild to moderate and occurs behind your eyes and in your neck. Some people may also feel it in their shoulders. As the name suggests, emotional stress and physical tension can cause tension headaches. Bad posture, especially a hunched posture while sitting, is a common factor in tension headaches. Other triggers of tension headaches include:
- Alcohol intake
- Lack of sleep or fatigue
Chiropractic Treatment: Your chiropractor can perform adjustments to correct subluxations in your cervical spine (neck) that may be causing muscle spasms and stiffness. Stiff muscles can cause subluxations, and subluxations can put a strain on muscles. This vicious cycle can be stopped with a mixture of chiropractic adjustment, massage and relaxation techniques. We will also ask you questions about your lifestyle to determine other possible triggers. We may recommend abstaining from alcohol or certain foods or improvements in your bedtime routine. It may not be possible to completely prevent tension headaches, but the right combination of chiropractic care and lifestyle changes can greatly reduce headache frequency.
Another common source of misery, migraines, can also occur sporadically or chronically. Migraines have symptoms known as “aura” that distinguish them from other headaches. Aura occurs before the pain of a migraine sets in and can include vision changes, a tingling feeling on one side of the face or body, and difficulty speaking. The aura symptoms are followed by a throbbing headache that usually occurs on one side of the head. The migraine pain may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can last anywhere from four hours to three days.
All the causes of migraines are not understood, but genetic and environmental factors may play a role. Interactions between the brainstem and the trigeminal nerve appear to be a factor. There are many possible triggers for migraines, and individuals who are prone to them should try to avoid their triggers as much as possible. Migraine triggers range from hormonal changes to sensory stimuli such as bright light and strong smells. Some people may experience migraines after drinking wine, eating processed or salty foods, or after intense physical activity.
Chiropractic Treatment: Chiropractic adjustment of the spine frees the nervous system to work optimally. Several studies support the use of regular chiropractic adjustment as a safe and effective preventative treatment for migraines. Your chiropractor will focus the adjustment on the head and neck and look for subluxations in your back that could affect these areas. We will also talk to you about lifestyle factors that may be triggering your migraines and help you come up with ways to de-stress and improve nutrition and sleep.
3. Cluster Headaches
Cluster headaches are a particularly brutal type of headache that affects about 1% of the population, mostly men. Cluster headache sufferers describe the pain as feeling like a red hot poker has been jammed into their eye. Usually, just one eye is affected, and the pain can come and go for hours or days. The pain may extend to other parts of the face, head, or neck. Sometimes the affected eye will show other symptoms like drooping, redness, or tearing.
No one knows what causes cluster headaches, but for many sufferers, they appear at the same time of year.
Chiropractic Treatment: Since no one knows the cause of cluster headaches, no one can promise a miracle treatment. However, cluster headaches are a sign that something in the body is out of balance. Chiropractic manipulation of the spine helps the body and the brain to communicate better. This has a positive effect on hormone balance and the nervous system. Many cluster headache sufferers have found that chiropractic adjustment helps to lower the frequency of cluster headaches.
4. Sinus Headaches
Sinus-related headaches cause pain in the forehead and sometimes along the cheekbones. Wondering if your headache is caused by your sinuses? Lean forward with your face parallel to the floor. If your pain is worse, you most likely have a sinus headache. Sinus headaches can be caused by anything that creates inflammation or mucus buildup in your sinuses. Respiratory viruses, sinus infections, and allergies are common culprits.
Chiropractic Treatment: Chiropractic adjustment is well documented as a cure for clogged sinuses. Adjustments can help your sinuses drain, relieving pressure. Regular visits to your chiropractor can improve your immune system. Several studies have shown that chiropractic adjustment can prevent colds and mitigate seasonal allergies. Talk to your chiropractor about setting up a preventative plan for you. He or she may also recommend nutritional interventions to improve immunity and reduce inflammation.
5. Concussion and Whiplash Injuries
These two injuries often occur together during an accident. Both can cause chronic headaches if not treated promptly. See your doctor if you have been in an accident and have signs of a concussion such as nausea, dizziness, blurred vision, or a throbbing headache.
Pain from a whiplash injury may not show up until days or weeks after the injury occurred. Pain from concussions can also continue after the damage has healed.
Chiropractic Treatment: Whiplash injuries often result in strained muscles and ligaments as well as changes in the curve of the cervical spine. Your chiropractor will perform an exam and might take X-rays to see the extent of your injury. We may prescribe frequent adjustment of the neck for several weeks. We may also use laser therapy to help heal soft tissues and rehabilitation exercises to restore curvature and normal range of motion. Lingering pain after a concussion may be a sign of undiagnosed subluxations in the neck. Chiropractic adjustment can often resolve this pain.