Headaches are one of the most common disorders of the nervous system, with more than 200 different types. Some headaches are occasional, some are frequent and some dull and throbbing. It has been estimated that 47% of the adult population had at least one headache last year and among those individuals, more than 10% reported a migraine. Headaches have many causes or “triggers.” These may include foods, environmental stimuli (noises, lights, stress) and/or behaviors (insomnia, excessive exercise, blood sugar changes). About 5 percent of all headaches are warning signals caused by a physical problem.
Headaches are grouped into “primary” and “secondary” causes. Ninety-five percent of headaches are primary headaches; such as tension, migraine, or cluster headaches. Primary headaches are not caused by a particular disease: the headache itself is the primary cause. Migraines typically present with pulsing head pain, nausea, photophobia (sensitivity to light) and phonophobia (sensitivity to sound). Tension-type headaches usually present with non-pulsing “bandlike” pressure on both sides of the head and are not accompanied by other symptoms. Cluster headaches are characterized by short episodes (15–180 minutes) of severe pain, usually around one eye, with autonomic symptoms (tearing, red eye, nasal congestion), which will usually occur at the same time every day. Neurological examinations and imaging tests are the usual diagnostic tool for primary headaches, no matter how severe the symptoms. There are no specific tests for primary headaches, only tests to rule out other causes.
Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying problem, such as an infection, muscle tightness, head injury, vascular disorders, a brain bleed or tumors. Some of these are not harmful, such as a cervicogenic headache (pain arising from the neck muscles). Medication overuse headaches, or rebound headaches, can occur in individuals using excessive painkillers to treat headaches. Ironically, this can cause a worsening of the headache.
So what do you do when you suffer from a pounding headache? Do you grit your teeth and carry on? Lie down? Pop a pill and hope the pain goes away? Primary headache syndromes have many different possible treatments, usually involving some form of medication, lifestyle changes and diet modifications. Treatment of secondary headaches involves treating the underlying cause, whether it is a tight muscle in the neck or jaw, bleeding in the brain or an infection. Research shows that spinal manipulation is an effective treatment option for tension headaches and headaches that originate in the neck. A report released in 2001 by Duke University, found that spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those headaches that originate in the neck. There were also significantly fewer side effects and longer-lasting relief of tension-type headaches than with the use of a commonly prescribed medication.
In addition, here are some more tips. 1. If you spend a great deal of time in one fixed position, such as in front of a computer screen, on a sewing machine, typing or reading, you should take a break and stretch every 30 minutes to one hour. The stretches should take your head and neck through a comfortable range of motion.2. Low-impact exercise may help relieve the pain associated with primary headaches. However, if you are prone to dull, throbbing headaches, avoid heavy exercise and engage in activities such as walking and low-impact aerobics. 3.Avoid clenching the teeth. The upper teeth should never touch the lowers, except when swallowing. This results in stress at the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), leading to TMJ irritation and a form of tension headaches. 4. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to help avoid dehydration, which can lead to headaches. 5. Keep a diary to find out what foods/triggers might set off your headache. If you can link any foods or ingredients, (including artificial colors or sweeteners), with the onset of your headaches, you’ll know what to avoid. 6. There are supplements that can reduce the symptoms of migraines. The most effective is ubiquinol (the reduced form of Coenzyme Q10). Other helpful remedies are magnesium, Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B1 and Folic acid. 7. A significant number of people report elimination of migraines on the Paleo diet; which can be summarized as “any food that can be eaten without being processed.”