Many people get a headache from time to time. However, if you’re regularly having headaches, it may be time to get to the bottom of why they’re happening and how best to treat them. The first step in treating your headache is understanding what kind you may have. Every headache has certain characteristics that can give you clues to its underlying cause. The most common types of headaches include:
These are the most widespread kind of headaches, and are the result of stress. They frequently begin with tight muscles in your shoulders or neck, with the pain creeping up to the back of your head. Some people describe this kind of headache as a tight gripping pain at the top of their neck. You may also have pain or pressure across your forehead or the sides of your head with a tension headache. This type of headache can occur in single episodes, or they may be chronic, occurring daily or several times a week. The pain associated with a tension headache tends to be dull and achy, but in some people the pain may be severe and hard to distinguish from a migraine.
While migraines are referred to as a kind of headache, they are much more than that. Migraines are actually considered to be a neurological event, with a headache being one of its most significant symptoms. That said, the pain associated with a migraine headache is usually profound and severe.
Migraines typically last anywhere from 4 to 72 hours and for many people a migraine moves through stages. A day or two before a migraine, you may experience signs that a headache is coming, such as a stiff neck, yawning, digestive changes, or a change in your mood. A few hours before the onset of the headache, you may experience an aura. This can be in the form of vision changes, flashing lights, sensory changes in an extremity, numbness, trouble speaking, or twitching. About a third of migraine sufferers experience an aura.
The main headache is usually very painful, and frequently affects only one side of your head, however in about one third of cases, both sides are affected. Migraine pain tends to be throbbing, often leaving you unable to function and needing to lie down. You may also experience nausea, vomiting, and hypersensitivity to light, loud noises, smells, or being touched. After the headache has resolved, you may feel a shadow headache or hangover from the migraine, such as feeling worn out, disoriented, or depleted.
The underlying cause of migraines aren’t clear, but scientists believe that they may be linked to environmental factors. In addition, migraines tend to run in families, suggesting a genetic component. While not necessarily a direct cause, many people with migraines have specific triggers, such as hormonal changes, certain foods or drinks, being tired, changes in the weather, stress, and strong sensory stimuli, such as bright or flashing lights, strong smells, smoke, and loud noises.
These are severe headaches that occur in clusters of episodes over a small period of time, then disappear. They may not recur for months, years, or ever. The onset of a cluster headache is usually sudden, with one-sided pain that can be debilitating. Beyond severe pain, you may experience a stuffy or runny nose and tearing of the eye on the affected side of your face. During a headache, the pain is excruciating, leaving you uncomfortable, edgy, and unable to lie down. The underlying cause of cluster headaches is unclear, but scientists believe that genetics play a role. Like migraines, cluster headaches may be triggered by certain stimuli, such as certain foods, alcohol, exposure to cigarette smoke, and even being at a high altitude.
A sinus headache is usually the result of a sinus infection, which may be accompanied by a fever, fatigue, yellowish nasal discharge, and pressure behind your forehead or cheeks. While many people believe that they suffer from sinus headaches, in reality, they are not as common as most people think. In many cases sinus headaches are confused with migraines. Both sinus headaches and migraines can have similar symptoms, such as congestion, sinus pressure, and watering eyes. What makes distinguishing the two even more confusing is that migraines can be triggered by allergies, something you might first associate with a sinus headache. In fact, in a large study of headache sufferers, researchers found that most of the participants who thought they had sinus headaches, actually were suffering from migraines. A couple of clues that your sinus headache may actually be a migraine is if you have them frequently over the course of several months, and if you experience nausea, light or sound sensitivity, the headache is severe, and it’s aggravated by activity.
Other Kinds of Headaches
There are dozens of different kinds of headaches, each with unique symptoms and causes. Other common kinds of headaches include:
- Hormonal headaches, caused by hormonal changes related to your menstrual cycle or menopause.
- Dental-related headaches. Tooth grinding, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) problems, or dental issues can be a source of headaches.
- Caffeine headaches. These withdrawal headaches occur in regular coffee drinkers who give up coffee.
- Rebound headaches are caused by prescription or over-the-counter medications, and can occur in one of two ways. Headaches may be a side-effect of certain medications, or they may occur once you discontinue a medication.
- Dehydration headaches are just like they sound, caused by a lack of hydration (water) in your system.
Treating Your Headaches at BodaHealth
Because there are so many different kinds of headaches, our plan for your care will first depend on identifying the underlying cause of your head pain. We do that by taking a thorough health history and learning about your current headache symptoms. We will then create a treatment plan, using the most effective healing tools for your specific needs. They may include the following:
Acupuncture. Often a first line of treatment for headaches at BodaHealth, acupuncture can be effective in treating headaches in a number of ways. It can increase circulation to constricted vessels, ramp up your body’s pain-relieving mechanisms, reduce inflammation, relieve stress, and loosen tight muscles. In fact, a great deal of research exists of the effectiveness of acupuncture for relieving headaches, especially migraines.
Traditional Chinese Medicine. Our acupuncture practitioners are extensively trained in other healing methods that fall under the heading of Chinese medicine. Most notably, herbal medicine can be an excellent adjunct to acupuncture treatments. Herbs are a way to extend the healing effects after an acupuncture treatment, and are formulated specifically to address your unique pattern of symptoms. Our practitioners may also incorporate a kind of massage, called Tui Na, cupping, moxibustion or a technique called Gua Sha to help increase circulation and relieve tight muscles that may be causing your headaches. They may also make specific dietary recommendations based on the Chinese principles of healing with food.
Naturopathic Medicine. Our naturopathic doctors are well-trained and experienced in treating headaches on a number of levels. They are able to perform assessments of your hormonal status, nutrition, digestive function, stress hormones, and even toxic substances—any of which may be causing your headaches. Armed with this information, they can prescribe herbal, nutritional, or hormonal supplements, dietary strategies, lifestyle suggestions, and ways to support your digestion. Our naturopathic physicians can also provide primary care.
Massage Therapy. Tension headaches are related to stress and tight muscles, and at BodaHealth, we can help with both. Our massage therapists are skilled and experienced in techniques to loosen tight muscles and painful trigger points. They also create an environment that’s relaxing to help relieve the underlying stress that may be triggering your headaches.
Exercise Therapy, Clinical Pilates, Facial Stretch and Exercise Physiology. At BodaHealth, our exercise therapists and clinical Pilates instructors are able to help you with pain relief, especially from tension headaches, through stretching, strengthening, and postural exercises. Using exercise physiology, our therapists can help pinpoint movement, postural, and ergonomic issues that may be contributing to your symptoms, and they can provide preventative strategies.
Shockwave Therapy. Many people who suffer from migraines and tension headaches describe points where their headaches originate in their upper back, neck or shoulders. For these patients, shockwave therapy may offer an effective solution. Shockwave therapy involves applying pulsed sound waves to the affected area to decrease pain, increase circulation, and stimulate healing.
Osteopathy. As a healing method that gets to the underlying source of your health condition, osteopathy can be a good treatment choice for a wide variety of headaches. Our osteopathic practitioner is extensively trained in hands-on manipulative techniques that involve gentle pressure, resistance, and stretching to both diagnose and treat health conditions. The goal is to correct biomechanical imbalances, improve circulation, and stimulate healing of your whole body.
Injection Therapy. For points on your upper back that trigger migraines and tension headaches, injection therapy can be an effective solution. Called Acupuncture Injection Therapy (AIT) or Perineural Injection therapy (PIT), these healing treatments marry acupuncture with injection therapy. Your practitioner will work with you to identify the painful points to be treated. They are typically acupuncture points, also sometimes called trigger points, that may be painful to the touch. Those points will then be injected with a combination of B vitamins or sterilize water with a 5% dextrose solution to release the painful points, increase circulation, and prevent further headaches.
At BodaHealth, we understand that there may be a number of factors causing your headaches. We also understand that every patient who suffers from headaches is unique. For that reason, we’re committed to offering a wide variety of treatment options and a staff that’s passionate about helping you feel better. To find out more about how we can help relieve your headaches, contact us today!