UNDERSTANDING HEADACHES


Headaches affect a lot of people, and can be very debilitating. Because headaches are so common, most people think that getting a headache is a normal part of life. This is simply not true. Headaches are a sign that something is wrong.

Every year we treat thousands of people with headaches. Some of the more common types of headaches that we see are: migraine headache, cluster headache, cervicogenic (spinal) headache and tension headaches. This article will focus on cervicogenic and tension headaches because they are the most common type of headaches.

TENSION HEADACHES

Tension headaches are caused by muscular tension and contraction involving the muscles of the scalp, shoulders and neck. Often this tension is a result of emotional stress, though injuries can also create chronic muscle spasms. It is normal for muscles to contract when we are threatened, irritated or angry, a reaction known as the fight of flight response. Over time, though, if work or home life creates a constant source of stress from which we can neither flight nor flee, the muscular tension can become chronic.

Today more than ever people are inclined to sit for hours with contracted postural muscles but without substantial physical activity. When muscles contract they burn fuel and produce waste. Among the waste products of muscle contraction are lactic acid, histamine and bradykinins. These waste products are irritants. If they are not efficiently removed from the muscle they can cause muscular inflammation, pain, and accumulate into localised tender areas known as 'trigger points'.

These waste products should normally be diluted and removed from the muscle tissue by the circulation. This process relies on the normal 'contract-relax' cycle in the muscle. When the muscle contracts it creates a high pressure on the fluids inside the muscle and pushes the blood out carrying away muscular waste products. When the muscle relaxes the pressure falls and blood floods back in carrying vital nutrients and fuel. When we sit or stand we are using the many back and neck muscles required to support our body. When these muscles are held contracted for a prolonged time (hours spent sitting or standing), they are producing irritative wastes, but not relaxing and draining themselves of these irritants. Over time these irritants can cause the muscles to lose their natural suppleness and resting length becoming stiffened and shortened. These stiffened and shortened muscles, often accompanied by trigger points can cause reflex pain into the neck and head.

CERVICOGENIC (SPINAL) HEADACHES

The vertebrae of the spine fit together on moving joints that provide strength to the structure of the spine and maintain the vertebrae in proper working alignment with one another. The joints of the spine in the neck are richly innervated (supplied) with nerve fibers that can cause pain in the head and neck if the joints are physically strained or injured.

Once the process described above has produced stiffness and shortening of the muscles in the neck, the joints of the spine are no longer properly stabilised or supported. The affected joints of the spine often become subluxated (misaligned). This causes strain and injury to the joints and supporting ligament tissue. The result of the combined subluxation, ligament strain and joint injury is often neck pain with associated headache.

TREATMENT

A treatment program with a chiropractor can result in dramatic improvements in patients suffering from chronic headaches. Taking analgesics simply removes the symptoms whilst the underlying problem remains and gets worst with time.

Chiropractic care works directly on the site of pain to restore the normal functioning of the spine. Chiropractors look for areas of muscle tension or weakness in the neck and head as sites of headache causes. This may include tight muscles in the base of the neck, at the base of the skull, or in the jaw. Using simple massage and adjustments, Chiropractic can provide headache relief for good, without expensive or dangerous techniques.

Chiropractic for headaches works by releasing the areas of tension around the head and neck, and re-training the spine to prevent further headaches. Removing the causes of spinal stress addresses both the muscle and nerve tension and the resulting headaches. Advice on posture, ergonomics and sleeping positions may be beneficial to headache sufferers.

Chiropractic is a simple, non-intrusive, and most importantly a long-lasting form of headache relief that benefits all members of the family.

Karen Williams

B.Sc. M.Chiropractic

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