WIFE: "I have to lie down. This headache is killing me."
HUSBAND: "Yeah. I've got one, too."
What are the chances that these two individuals are experiencing the same sort of headache? Are the causes behind the headache the same? Will they both respond the same way to an over-the-counter medication?
What if we dig a little deeper into this scenario?
WIFE: "Can you turn off the lights, honey? The bright lights are making my headache worse."
HUSBAND: "Sure. But that's funny. The lights don't bother me."
WIFE: "Ohhh. Thanks. The darkness is better."
HUSBAND: "Didn't help me at all. My temples are still throbbing."
WIFE: "Temples? My temples are fine. It's my eyes that are burning. And my head is splitting."
HUSBAND: "Nope. You're still in one piece."
The term "headache" is not very descriptive. All a "headache" means is that the sufferer happens to have pain in or near the head. The possible causes of a headache range from simple muscle issues to life-threatening ones. While the Wife is probably experiencing a classic migraine headache, the Husband has a much more common condition: neck muscle pain which is referred to the head.
Since many common headaches are caused by tight muscles in the neck or shoulders, chiropractors have a track record of excellent successes with headaches, especially those experienced in the temples, behind the eyes, across the forehead, and below the back of the head. These headaches, called cervicogenic headaches (the term literally means "born in the neck"), result from your brain misinterpreting the exact location of pain and distress signals from the nerves and muscles of the neck and shoulders. Since most people are "wired" similarly, these misinterpretations become relatively predictable, leading the trained chiropractor directly to the source of the problem: tight muscles or subluxated vertebrae, both of which cause dysfunctional or insufficient messages from the nervous system.
It takes quite a bit of "outside the box" thinking to realize that headaches felt in the head might be coming from somewhere else. But, as they say, when you step on a dog's tail, it barks out the other end. Even the Wife's migraine is probably caused by a combination of upper back nervous system dysfunction and blood vessel vasoconstriction in the head: a double whammy.
But some headaches, which might feel just like a migraine or a cervicogenic headache, are actually harbingers of very serious underlying conditions like a stroke. How can you tell the difference? An excellent publication called The Chiropractic Report compiled some "red flags" for headaches in their September, 2010, edition:
• Recent Onset. Less than six months. Most patients with chronic primary headaches consult a health professional only after a long history of suffering. A patient with headaches caused by an underlying disease process is likely to consult a doctor much sooner because of the severity of the headaches or associated symptoms. Recent onset is a red flag, particularly with adults.
• Positional Headache. A headache that is aggravated by changes in position, for example moving from a reclining to an upright position, suggests an increase in intra-cranial pressure and a sinister cause. If so, one would expect that coughing, sneezing or similar activities would also exacerbate the headache. Migraine headaches or other vascular headaches may be sensitive to these activities, but to a lesser degree.
• Focal Neurologic Signs. The presence of any hard neurological signs accompanying a headache. These may include motor or sensory deficits, cranial nerve palsies, visual losses, or cerebellar signs. Any one of these signs indicates a likely intra-cranial lesion. A migraine aura may include some of these neurologic deficits, but only on a temporary or transient basis.
• Cognitive Changes. Memory loss or confusion are among the more common signs and symptoms accompanying a space-occupying lesion or increase in intra-cranial pressure. A spouse, close friend or relative can be very helpful in identifying these changes in a patient.
• Progressive Headaches. Headaches that are progressive in frequency, intensity or both, suggest an evolving process, and an intra-cranial mass or lesion. Any change in headache patterns should be viewed with suspicion."
If you find yourself experiencing any of the above signs, be sure to contact a medical professional immediately.
The rest of that issue of The Chiropractic Report discussed the prevalence and treatment of cervicogenic headaches, and points out the success rate that chiropractors have with headaches, since we look for the cause of the headache instead of simply trying to reduce the pain. If the cause is found and corrected, the pain will also decrease. But if the treatment is focused only on the pain, the cause will remain and result only in more future headaches. It's worth consulting your friendly local Peoria chiropractor as soon as the headache rears its ugly... well... head.
Unless otherwise attributed, all content is written by Kyle Johnson, DC, of Johnson Family Chiropractic of Peoria.
All images used are under Creative Commons license.
Although every effort has been made to provide an accurate description of our chiropractic care and its benefits, the information given on this website and blog is not intended to be, nor should it be interpreted as, medical advice for any condition.
If you have any questions regarding your condition, you should seek the help of Dr. Johnson in person, so that he may properly assess your condition.
This blog is provided by Johnson Family Chiropractic of Peoria, S.C., proudly located in Peoria, IL.