Headaches are not only uncomfortable, they can be extremely debilitating. In the United States, headache is the leading cause of missing work, school, and visiting a doctor. In this article, we will explore the causes, types and symptoms, and treatment of headaches.
4 Components of A Healthy Brian and Nervous System
We do not fully understand the process that causes us to feel the pain of a headache. What we do know is that our brains and nervous systems require four things to function properly:
- A steady stream of energy (glucose control),
- Control over inflammation.
An imbalance in any of the four areas above can be manifested as a headache. For example, a person suffering from COPD may experience frequent headaches as a result of poor oxygenation. Likewise, a person with diabetes will experience a headache when their blood sugar is out of a nominal range. Inflammation can impinge on nervous tissues resulting in over activation. At the same time inflammation can constrict blood vessels and restrict blood flow carrying the needed oxygen and sugar to the brain.
Tension, Migraine, Cluster – Making Sense of The Types of Headaches
There are many different types of headaches because each one has it’s own unique pathophysiology (cause). These are grouped into primary and secondary categories. Primary headaches, like the three listed below, are not linked to another health condition and occur independently.
Tension headaches are the most common type and are caused by overactive musculature in the neck and upper thoracic regions of the spine. These are usually described by dull, achy pain with tenderness at the back of your head where your neck muscles attach to your skull. Stress, bad posture, uncomfortable sleep position, and eyestrain are all factors that can contribute to a tension type headache. Tension headaches can last anywhere from a couple hours to seven days.
Migraine headaches feel like the weight of the world is pressing down on your head. This moderate to severe type of headache typically affects half of your head with a pulsating pain that is heightened by physical activity. You may or may not experience an aura, which is a blurring or dimming of your peripheral vision right before the onset of the headache. Your natural inclination to a migraine will be to seclude yourself in a dark room because of sensitivity to light, sound, or smell. While the exact cause is unknown, it is believed to be a mix of environmental factors and genetics. Ultimately, decreased blood flow as a result of constricted blood vessels in the brain seems to be the cause of the pain. Migraines generally resolve within 72 hours, although that is a long time to barricade yourself into your makeshift sensory deprivation chamber.
Cluster Headaches are named for their recurrent nature as they typically occur at the same time of day for weeks at a time. “They strike one side of the head, often behind or around one eye, and may be preceded by a migraine-like aura and nausea. The pain usually peaks 5 to 10 minutes after onset and continues at that intensity for up to 3 hours. The nose and the eye on the affected side of the face may get red, swollen, and teary. Some people will experience restlessness and agitation, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and sensitivity to light, sound, or smell. Cluster headaches often wake people from sleep.” (Headache Hope Through Research – National Institutes of Health) As with the other primary headaches, the exact cause is unknown. However, the symptoms seem to be related to activation of the cranial nerves (in particular the vagus nerve) and can be provoked by smoking, and alcohol.
While all of the conditions above are self-limiting and will resolve on their own if given enough time, why suffer needlessly? We can diagnose and treat your headache, eliminating or reducing your symptoms and returning you to normal life. You should schedule an appointment if you experience headaches that:
- Occur more frequently than usual
- Are more severe than usual
- Worsen or don’t improve with your normal remedies
- Impede your work, sleep, and activity level
- Cause you overall discomfort and distress.
When A Headache Warrants a Trip to the ER
Secondary category headaches are the result of a disease or injury. Unlike primary category headaches that will resolve on their own over a period of time, those in the secondary category often warrant immediate medical attention. Conditions that can cause a secondary headache include: traumatic brain injury, stroke, meningitis, toxicity (lead, drugs, etc.), and brain tumor.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should make a trip to the ER if any of the following are true:
- Confusion or trouble understanding speech
- High fever, greater than 102 F to 104 F (39 C to 40 C)
- Numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of your body
- Stiff neck
- Trouble seeing
- Trouble speaking
- Trouble walking
- Nausea or vomiting (if not clearly related to the flu or a hangover)
Treatment with Non-Invasive, Natural Therapies
We have a lot of tools in our toolbox to ease your pain. First is our unmatched ability to diagnose the root cause of your issue (remember the 4 requirements of a healthy brain and nervous system). After identifying the root cause we will discuss and implement a treatment plan that addresses your deficits.
To improve oxygenation, we might recommend Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) in concert with supplements that will improve your bloods ability to carry oxygen to your brain.
We can help you improve your glucose control and inflammation control with dietary recommendations and supplements tailored to your individual needs.
Last but not least, we leverage nervous system stimulation to activate nerves and calm overactive musculature. Using RPSS we can calm your midbrain and activate your parasympathetic nervous system. We’ll use our gentle, no-cracking adjustment techniques to reduce muscle tension and improve posture.
No matter which type of headache is impeding your life, we can help. Schedule an appointment today to find relief from tension, migraine, and cluster headaches. We also specialize in traumatic brain injury rehabilitation.
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