Headaches are extremely common, 87% of Australians suffers headaches each year. There are three common headache types with three very distinct causes. They all also have very distinct treatments that have been shown to be effective for each headache type. Seeing a healthcare professional for a diagnosis is vital to manage this frustrating symptom.
What causes most headaches?
There are many causes of headaches and they vary greatly in their significance but here are the three most common headache types:
1. Cervicogenic Headaches
Cervicogenic means 'caused by the neck'. This common headache is a result of dysfunction of the muscles and joints in the neck. These headaches vary quite a bit in intensity. They usually begin at the base of the skull and then come over the head to the front. A cervicogenic headache is often accompanied by tender neck muscles and pain when pressing on certain vertebrae in the neck. Reduced neck range of motion can also occur. Jaw dysfunction commonly contributes to these headaches. This is because the jaw has a strong mechanical and neurological relationship with the head and neck. Clicking, grinding or clenching the jaw is a common contributing factor for headaches.
2. Tension Headaches
Tension-type headache is very common. This headache is typically mild to moderate in intensity, felt on both sides of the head and feels like a pressing or tightening around the head. This headache can last a few minutes to a few days. The pain does not worsen with routine physical activity and should not cause nausea. It may cause sufferers either aversion to bright light or loud noise, but not both.
4.9 million Australians suffer migraine headaches. Migraine is an on-going, recurrent headache disorder. It causes headache attacks which last 4-72 hours. The migraine headache is typically (but not always) felt on one side of the head, throbbing, and moderate to severe in intensity. It is also usually aggravated by physical activity and sufferers often have a relative who gets migraines. Along with the described headache, a migraine attack can cause nausea and an aversion to bright light & loud noise. Some people can also have an aura before their migraine headache occurs. An aura gives odd neurological symptoms like visual disturbances.
What treatments can be delivered by a chiropractor for headaches?
There has been significant scientific research into chiropractic treatment for headaches. Randomised controlled trials have demonstrated that chiropractic adjustments are effective at reducing headache intensity and frequency. Despite this body of research and international clinical practice guidelines recommending chiropractors for headaches, chiropractic is still under-utilised by headache sufferers in Australia.
The chiropractic treatment varies for each headache type:
- Chiropractic treatments are very effective with reducing cervicogenic headaches. Treatment varies between cases but should always aim to address the underlying causes of neck dysfunction. These underlying causes include joint restrictions, muscle imbalances, poor posture, workplace ergonomics and jaw dysfunction.
- Tension type headache has long been considered a stress headache. It can improve with simple remedies such as cessation of stressful activity and a drink of water. Tension headaches typically do not improve with manipulation however they can respond well to other Chiropractic treatments such as cranial massage.
- Chiropractic treatment has been shown to be a very effective treatment for migraine headaches. Some prescription medications can also be effective. Treatment is chosen based on what gives the greatest relief and produces the fewest side-effects to the particular individual.