Did you know there are well over 100 different type of headaches! One of the most common is tension type headaches and this is where manual therapy can be of great benefit. However, as you might expect with such a large variety of headaches, management needs to be fitted to the cause. So if headaches are becoming a significant problem in your life, the best advice is not to just blindly start just pop pills (in fact as you will see below, this can be one of the causes of headache), seek professional advice for a firm diagnosis and how best to tackle it!
Whilst patients very often suffer with more than one cause of headache at the same time, here are some of the some of the most common types of headache and things that should be consider for each:
Tension Headaches. This is THE most common type of headache today! “Text Neck”, stress and tight muscles in the neck and shoulder area all play their part. The exact area of pain can often be pinned down to very specific “knots” or “trigger points” in these muscles. However, there are a lot of pain referral mechanisms that go on, so for example a patient complaining of jaw, or eye pain or pain at the side of their head will often have “muscle pain” originating from their muscles around the shoulder blade and may not be aware of these specific causative knots. The added complication is that trigger points can be “primary” (i.e. cause) or “secondary” (i.e. effect, as an example primary trigger points in the lower traps, that the patient may be completely unaware of, classically can cause secondary tripper points in the upper trapezius, which they are aware of but will never fully resolve unless one addresses the primary lower trapezius trigger point). They can also be myogenic (over use type musculature) or neurogenic (i.e. due to nerve root irritation or facet referral in the neck). So relying on the patient to tell you where the exact trigger points are can be tricky if aiming for gold standard / full resolution. What is required is “exploration” of these muscle by a manual therapist experienced in dealing with such issues.
Cervicogenic Headaches: In this form of headache the suffering experiences referred pain to the head from the neck area directly from degenerative discs and or (facet) joints in the neck. There will often be an overlap and tension headaches in addition.
NICE guidelines currently recommend 9 – 12 sessions of acupuncture for these types of headaches.
If you think you are suffering with Tension type or Cervicogenic Headaches, we’d love to help. Contact our team to learn more about our focused, gentle acupuncture treatments which we combine with Osteopathy, and discover why so many people just like you have visited Spine Plus for help with their headaches.
Other forms of headache to be aware of include:
Migraine Headaches: Migraines can not only cause headache but may also cause other symptoms such as visual disturbance (particularly associated with light sensitivity), and vomiting. Attacks may last hours of days. Although there may be some overlap, for example with tension headaches, the cause is very distinct and to do with constriction of the blood vessels to the head (“vasospasm”). Triggers factors include poor sleep, diet and hormonal changes.
Medication Overuse Headaches: As the name suggests this is body’s reaction to drug medication overuse. Sufferers often fall in to a spiral of relying on pain killers to provide short term relief when in fact these are part of the long term cause.
Caffeine Withdrawal Headaches: This could be viewed as being similar to medication overuse headache. Just as too much medication in your system can lead to headaches, if you are a five cups of coffee a day type person, who’s trying to cut down, when the caffeine, your body has become accustomed to, starts to lower in your system, this can leave feeling pretty rough, including having headaches.
Cluster Headaches: Such headaches often come in bouts or “clusters”, everyday for weeks or months at a time. The pain usually comes on suddenly and is often severe in nature being described as sharp, piercing or burning on one side of the head. The exact cause in unclear but is thought to involve a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Current evidence strongly in favour of “fast flow Oxygen” therapy, Check out a support group called “OUCH” if you think you suffering with Cluster Headaches.
Sinus Headaches: Such headaches emanate from congested, inflamed or infected sinuses and are typically accompanied by other features such as fever, stuffy or runny nose with green discharge, and facial pressure.
Thunderclaps Headache: Whilst much less common than the types of headache outlined above, this arguably the most serious type of headache, and one that needs urgent medical attention! It is described as a sudden agonising headache – it’s been described as similar to a sudden hit on the head, resulting in a blinding pain unlike anything experienced before. The cause of such head aches is due to weakness (aneurysm) in the blood vessels to the brain. Red flags to look out for include:
– New Onset > over age of 50
– Sudden severe onset
– Signs or history of generally being unwell (including recent surgery to the neck or head area)
– History of HIV or Cancer
If you think you might be suffering from Thunderclap Headache, call 999.