There are many classifications of headache. These classifications are based on onset, location, and past history of the signs and symptoms described by the patient. The most common headaches seen in heath care clinics are; tension headache, migraine, and cervicogenic headache.
Treatment for these headaches must be tailored to the true cause of the headache not the symptoms. Most headaches have three major components; muscle imbalance/tightness, vasodilation/constriction and joint dysfunction/restriction. Effectiveness of treatment can depend on the specific tissues involved.
The tension headache is the most common headache suffered by patients. The patient typically complains of frequent or daily headache that is described as a dull ache. Many also describe a generalized pressure around the head. Chronic tension headache sufferers often state that they have become used to the headache and when relieved of it, feel like “ a light in their head was switched on.” A tension headache is primarily due to tightness in the muscles in the back on the neck and upper shoulders as well as joint restriction in the upper neck. Treatment is aimed at stretching and massaging the involved muscles and manipulating the upper neck. Treatment for this type of headache is typically very effective.
Migraine headaches are not as common as most people think. Generally, people refer to any severe headache as a migraine. This is not the case. A migraine headache is a complex collection of symptoms due to a variety of causes. These causes include stress, specific foods, anxiety, climate change, physical activity, high blood pressure and many others. More research must be undertaken as much is still unknown. Migraines are more than just headaches as they can cause debilitating pain that can last for days. A migraine is primarily due to vasoconstriction/vasodilation of the blood vessels in the head. Muscle imbalance and joint restriction are usually involved as well. Treatment for migraines is usually multidimensional. Food and other environmental causes are examined, medication is typically prescribed to affect the blood vessels action and stress levels addresses. Chiropractic care and massage are also commonly utilized but have varying degrees of success.
A cervicogenic headache can sometimes be mistaken for a tension headache. This type of headache is primarily caused by dysfunction in the joints of the neck. Typically, the headache can be produced with specific head movements. Dizziness and nausea are sometimes associated with this type of headache. Treatment is focused on involved areas of the neck and back and is very effective.
No matter what type of headache a person feels he/she is suffering from, it is important to allow an appropriate health care professional to make the correct diagnosis so that the proper treatment can be performed. As with any condition it is important to discuss all treatment options with your chiropractor or family doctor. If you have any questions related to this article please contact my office.
Dr. Todd Marshall DC, FRCCSS(C), ICSC