June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. Over 43 million American’s suffer from migraines, and about 2 % of the population experiences chronic migraines. Migraines are among the most debilitating types of illness and can interfere with work and personal life. Other types of headaches can also reduce quality of life and disrupt normal activities. Here’s what you need to know about the three most common types of headaches and how to treat them:
Frequent migraines are debilitating. Researchers used to think that migraines were related to blood vessel problems in the head and neck. New research has shown that this is not the case; neurological mechanisms within the brain cause migraines. Chronic migraines are thought to have a genetic component. Since more women than men suffer from frequent migraines, sex hormones may also play a role.
Migraines differ from other types of headaches in several ways. In addition to severe pain, migraines cause symptoms known as aura. These include vision changes, nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, tingling in arms and legs, and difficulty speaking. These symptoms usually precede the onset of pain and last twenty to sixty minutes. Some patients notice signs that signal a migraine attack days in advance. These are known as prodrome and can include constipation, mood changes, and increased thirst. In addition to aura symptoms, migraine attacks usually include pain. Often the pain is described as throbbing, and it tends to occur on one side of the head. Sometimes patients experience aura symptoms without a painful headache. This is known as a silent migraine.
Migraine attacks can last up to 72 hours if left untreated. After a migraine, patients experience symptoms known as post-drome. They may feel confused, washed out, and drained for hours or days after the migraine.
These varied symptoms are all caused by neurological signaling in the brain that somehow goes awry. Sometimes migraines are triggered by lack of sleep, stress, hormonal changes, or certain foods.
Treatment for Migraines
There are a variety of treatments available for migraine headaches. Prescription medications fall into two categories–abortive and preventative. Abortive medications are meant to stop a migraine after it starts. These can shorten the duration and lessen the symptoms of a migraine attack. Preventive medications aim to stop migraines before they start. Several of these have been shown to reduce the number of migraines a person has per month. While these medications can be effective for some people, others have intolerable side effects or are not candidates for medications because of other health conditions.
Over-the-counter drugs such as Excedrin and ibuprofen can also be used to reduce the pain of migraine headaches. Some people find that these drugs are beneficial and even reduce aura symptoms. Others don’t experience much relief.
In addition to medications, there are now devices meant to target nerve signals and stop migraines after they start. These include headbands or handheld devices that use electrical or magnetic pulses to calm nerves. Some of these treatments are not yet approved by the FDA and not covered by insurance, but studies have shown promising results.
If medications and electrical devices aren’t options for you because of side effects or pricing, there are natural remedies you can try. Since migraines are a neurological disorder, studies have been done to see whether chiropractic care can help. Chiropractors don’t only treat the musculoskeletal system; they also treat neurological conditions related to the spine and its impact on the spinal cord. When received regularly, chiropractic care has been proven to reduce stress, balance hormones, and reduce pain. Recent studies have shown that specific manipulations of the upper spine may help reduce migraines. Chiropractic care has a long track record of safety, and most people are candidates for treatment.
A dull ache and stiffness in your shoulders and neck that just won’t go away– that’s a tension headache. Often the pain affects the back of the head, neck, and shoulders. Chronic tension headaches can damage muscles and put pressure on nerves resulting in tingling or numbness in the arms. Tension headaches are often caused by psychological or physiological stress. When we feel stressed, the muscles in our shoulders tense, and our shoulders rise towards our ears. This posture creates more stiffness and eventually pain. People who experience chronic stress or anxiety are often prone to tension headaches.
Physiological stress can be caused by bad posture– such as hunching over a desk. Bad posture puts a strain on muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Frequent bad posture can cause micro lesions in the muscles; these then turn into scar tissue, limiting mobility. Tilting your head downward to look at your phone or monitor also puts pressure on your spine. Chronic tension headaches can result in fatigue and difficulty doing daily activities.
Treatment for Tension Headaches
Chiropractic care is the first-line treatment for tension headaches. Chiropractic manipulation corrects subluxations in the vertebrae that may be impacting the spinal cord. Your provider can use laser therapy, compression therapy and massage to heal soft tissues and reduce scar tissue. Therapeutic exercises and stretches strengthen muscles needed to hold a healthy posture and elongate tight shortened tissues. Your chiropractor can also recommend lifestyle adjustments that will prevent future headaches. These may include tips on improving sleep habits, reducing stress, and creating a more ergonomic work environment.
Cluster headaches cause piercing pain around one eye and one side of the head. Cluster headaches come on in bouts that can last from minutes to hours, then pause and come on again hours or days later. These bouts of headaches can last days or months and then disappear, sometimes for years. Some people experience them every year around the same time. Researchers don’t know what causes cluster headaches, but it appears that a neurological mechanism is involved. Other than pain, symptoms include drooping, redness, or tearing of the affected eye, a stuffy nose feeling on one side of the nose, and sweating on the affected side of the forehead.
Treatments for Cluster Headaches
Scientists think that the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls the body’s circadian rhythms, may play a role in cluster headaches. Medications that affect brain chemicals are sometimes used to treat cluster headaches. Other treatments include OTC pain medications and invasive treatments like deep brain stimulation.
Chiropractic care can reduce the number of cluster headaches by balancing the nervous system. Often, individuals with cluster headaches have a subluxation in the C1 vertebrae (at the base of the skull). Correcting this can reduce the number of cluster headache attacks.
Our Chiropractors in Murfreesboro can safely and effectively treat your chronic headaches. We will create a personalized treatment plan that looks at all aspects of your health. Our goal is to facilitate healing so you can live your best life.