In my Evaluation & Management of the Head, Neck & Cervical Spine course (taught by Dr. Cooper), we discussed the prevalence of headaches since 9 out of 10 Americans suffer from headaches (occasional or frequent). Majority of headaches are primary in nature and fall into tension, migraine, or cluster categories. Since so many suffer from headaches, it is important as chiropractors to understand the differences in each to best diagnose and treat effectively.
Common primary headache is a tension headache, which feels like there is a tight band around the head and the pain often radiates to the neck muscles. It has a non-pulsating quality and exam findings may reveal musculature hypertonicity of posterior cervicals, suboccipitals, trapezius, pterygoids, and sternocleidomastoid. While NSAIDs and aspirin can be used for treatment, we’ve also learned about the similar relieving effects of taking ginger, turmeric, and Boswellia for pain management and anti-inflammation without the side effects seen in taking NSAIDs. Soft tissue care and manipulation also help treat tension headaches.
Perhaps you have had severe throbbing head pain that centers around one side of the head (most commonly in the frontal-temporal location) that can induce nausea and vomiting and is aggravated by normal physical routine: a migraine headache. Migraines with visual disturbances (auras) are known as “classic migraines,” while those without an aura are “common migraines.” Migraines can be triggered by stress, food (especially nitrates found in wine and deli meat), caffeine, weather changes, menstrual periods, skipping meals, and changes in sleep pattern. Treatment can include applying cold pads on the head/neck, regulating active daily lifestyle, adjusting posture, undergoing acupuncture, and including supplements like Vitamin B2 and magnesium.
Cluster headaches are the most painful of all headaches and symptoms are sharp and short-lasting with a red eye, runny nose, and other associated signs on one side of the head. It can be described as “hot poker in the eye.” Unlike migraines, patients with this type of headache are restless. Prescription medication is the main source of treatment.
Last year, I had a one-hour commute from school to home, and I suffered greatly from tension headaches and migraines. I began going to the NUHS clinic for manipulation, soft tissue care, and acupuncture on my neck and back. It was an amazing experience and greatly relieved my head pain. The NUHS clinic intern worked closely with me to better understand the source of my headaches, taught me different soft tissue techniques I could do at home to soothe my tense neck muscles, and provided fantastic physical care. It was inspiring to see how knowledgeable the intern was and made me hopeful that I will soon be in the same position offering care to patients in similar situations as myself.
If you suffer from headaches, please consult your doctor to discuss potential changes you can do in your diet and lifestyle to combat those head pains. While supplements can really help, it’s crucial to speak to a professional that can best determine how to incorporate them in your diet safely and effectively.