Headaches are one of the most common reasons why people visit a doctor. Tension type and migraine headaches are among the most frequently diagnosed headache types. Research has shown that chiropractic treatment can be very beneficial in addressing the cause of some of these headaches.
Some people choose to take medication to treat their headaches. These medications may “numb” their nervous system so that they do not “register” as much pain, however they do very little to address the muscular, joint, postural or lifestyle factors that can be contributing to the headaches. After all, most headaches are not caused by a shortage of pain medication. These powerful medications may be convenient, but they can have a number of side effects especially if taken regularly.
Sometimes headaches can be so bad that we think there must be something wrong in the head. It is important to know that headaches are rarely a sign of a life threatening health problem. Headaches are a very common condition among people with issues relating to their neck, jaw and surrounding nerves and musculature. Doctors of chiropractic work to identify if there are any issues related to the muscles, joints and nerves that may be contributing to the headache. When the issues in these areas are corrected, the pain in the head often goes away. Chiropractors are also trained to refer you to another medical professional if the cause is outside their scope of practice.
What is the cause of headaches?
Headaches are your body’s way of telling you that something is not right. You can get a headache for a variety of reasons. Some milder headaches can be brought on by excessive alcohol consumption or eating. Headaches may also result from eye strain, too much or too little sleep, poor lighting, improper diet and stress; both physical and mental. In rare cases, headaches can be caused by conditions such as brain tumours, blood flow issues or infections. Doctors of chiropractic are trained to ask the right questions and conduct a series of tests to determine the cause of the headaches. Advanced imaging of the head such as MRI or CT scans may be indicated, however it is important to note that these studies are only needed in a very small percentage of cases. Unfortunately, these expensive tests are ordered far too frequently. Most often the doctor or patient are looking in the wrong direction. Chiropractic doctors understand that headaches can often be the body’s warning signal and that pain may be attributed to muscular tension, or improper movement of the bones in the neck. This can lead to irritation of the nerves which exit the neck to supply the head and face and can also contribute to small changes in blood flow in the vessels that supply the head and brain. When this happens, the headaches tend to become more frequent and can become very severe.
Can headaches be serious?
Most people will experience a headache at some point in their lives. Some are mild and occur in a specific area and the cause is easy to determine. Other headaches can occur much more frequently (sometimes constantly) and may involve nausea, vomiting, severe throbbing and sensitivity to bright light and sounds. The person may be unable to complete their day to day tasks, unable to work or leave their bed. These headaches can often be debilitating. They can affect vision, bring on pain and unpleasant sensations in other parts of the body, lead to depression and mood changes. In many cases to find relief, the Australian public will spend millions of dollars a year on pain medications, nerve-numbing and anti-anxiety medications.
What can a Doctor of Chiropractic do to help
Your doctor of chiropractic will perform a thorough history and a specific spinal examination to determine if your symptoms may be relieved with chiropractic care. The examination will determine if your headaches may be caused by or made worse by muscular tension, or the lack of or/improper movement of a vertebrae in the spine which may be causing irritation of the nerves that supply the head and face. In some cases, chiropractic treatment can provide immediate relief for some people. Every person is different, so the treatment approach is tailored to the individual to suit their symptoms, preferences and circumstances. If your condition requires treatment from another health specialist, your chiropractor will refer you. Some people experience improvements in headaches very quickly, others notice a slow decline in symptoms over time. If you have had headaches for many years, improvement can take time.
What can I do to help with the pain?
When people have a headache, they will often reach for their bottle of “over the counter” pain pills, however there are other more common remedies that may help to reduce the need for medication, such as:
- Apply an ice pack or cool compress to the affected area to help ‘numb’ the pain.
- Apply heat to the shoulder/neck muscles to help and relax the muscles.
- Do a gentle massage to the back of the neck to help reduce the muscular tension that can build up from stress.
- Lie down in a quiet room in a comfortable position using a rolled up towel or pillow to help and support the neck. Breathe.
- Drink a glass of water.
- Avoid bright lights or noise.
- If you have been on your computer, take a break and walk around.
All too often people get used to taking medication right away when they have a headache. This may mask some potentially dangerous conditions. Over-reliance of pain medication in lieu of a proper examination or diagnosis is not recommended. Early examination and diagnosis are important to ensure that you are getting the care that you require. Consult your doctor of chiropractic for a consultation and evaluation and/or referral to another health care specialist.
What are some other tips that can help me avoid getting a headache?
Maintain good posture to minimize stress on the joints and muscles in the neck and upper back (a doctor of chiropractic can help to advise you on some stretches or exercises that may be appropriate for you).
Try to avoid potentially stressful situations if possible. Stress can contribute to a build up of tension in the neck, which can contribute to headaches. If the stress cannot be avoided, discuss with your doctor of chiropractic some strategies to help cope with the stress more effectively. Here are some suggestions:
- Make time during your day to take breaks to relax, go for a walk, close your eyes or get some fresh air.
- Try to exercise regularly to stimulate blood flow throughout the body, relax the muscles and maintain joint movement.
- Get adequate rest so that you do not become overtired. But, try not to oversleep.
- Try to avoid sleeping on your stomach. Maintaining your neck in the rotated position can potentially irritate the joints at the top of your neck which can contribute to headaches.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Try not to overindulge in food or drink.
- Avoid smoking.
Dr. Alison Leitch has completed a 4 year Doctor of Chiropractic Degree and an additional 4 year Health Science Degree. She has also completed the Medical Acupuncture Health Sciences program from McMaster University in Canada, and is skilled in a variety to soft tissue techniques to address problems related to muscles, ligaments, nerves and fascia. Dr. Alison’s area of focus is conditions related to the joints, spine, pelvis, nerves and muscles such as back and neck pain, headaches and arthritis. Dr. Alison Leitch is a member of our team at Noosa Holistic Health.