Most of us have experienced headaches at some point in our lives. They can be painful, debilitating, annoying and worrying. But they also come in many forms. So, what are the causes and how can we relieve the symptoms?
Headaches are not always as straightforward as you may think, in fact there are over 150 different types – each with its own list of causes and symptoms. So, how can you possibly know how to deal with yours?
What type of headache do I have?
It would be impossible to list all 150 here, but to get you started with identifying the type of headache you may be experiencing, here are some of the most common:
Tension headaches: Most common among adults and teens. A tension headache causes mild to moderate pain and can come and go over time, usually with no other symptoms.
Migraine: A migraine is usually accompanied by intense headaches, often described as a throbbing pain which can last from 4 hours to 3 days, and usually occur between 1-4 times per month. Alongside the headache, sufferers can experience other symptoms such as:
- sensitivity to light, noise or smell
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- visual disturbance prior to onset of headache
Cluster headaches: these are 3-4 times more likely to affect men than women, can feel like an intense burning pain behind or around the eye or on one side of the head. Whilst it is the least common type of headache, it can be the most intense and severe. Cluster headaches leave sufferers unable to follow their usual daily routine. They cannot lie down or keep still and attacks are often accompanied by eye redness and copious watering and a very runny nose.
So called because they tend to occur in groups, cluster headaches come in many forms:
- Clusters of headaches 1-3 times per day
- A prolonged period of headaches lasting 2 weeks to 3 months
- Headache attacks lasting 15 minutes to 3 hours
- No headaches at all for months or years, but then they return later.
Sinus headaches: Sufferers feel a deep constant pain in cheekbones, head and nose. This type of headache can be associated with a cold or other seasonal medical complaint, such as hay-fever.
Hormone headaches: Women often experience headaches when changes in their hormone levels occur, usually during periods, pregnancy or menopause.
What causes headaches?
Headaches can incredibly debilitating, so what causes the pain?
Headaches come from a mix of signals sent between the brain and nearby nerves. These nerves, blood vessels and head muscles switch on and thus send signals to the brain to tell it, it is in pain. Unfortunately, there has been no clear factor to determine why these signals turn on in the first place.
Headaches can be triggered by a variety of things:
- An illness – such as a cold, fever or virus;
- A condition such as sinusitis, an ear or throat infection;
- An injury such as a blow to the head;
- Emotional stress or depression;
- A change in sleep patterns;
- Skipping meals;
- Taking too much medication;
- Too much physical activity;
- Changes in the environment around you – i.e. second-hand smoke, strong smells, noise, lighting and changes in weather;
- Hereditary – migraines especially, tends to be passed down through generations;
- In rare cases, TIAs (Transient Ischaemic Attack) etc. which would need a referral to either a GP or A&E.
What can I do to ease my headache or symptoms?
In addition to preventative measures such as avoiding the stressors listed above or perhaps eliminating caffeine, many people turn to over the counter medication, relaxation techniques, having a lie down or taking a relaxing bath.
But what other approaches are there that could help relieve your symptoms?
The short answer is Osteopathy – which offers the possibility of relieving the symptoms whilst understanding and addressing the underlying, sometimes multifactorial, factors
A combination of manual therapies such as osteopathy and tailored exercise programmes to suit you as an individual, could lead to long-term control of some types of headaches.
Recent research has shown that manual manipulation treatments such as those performed by an Osteopath, were as effective as prescribed drugs for providing relief from short term chronic headaches, but with fewer side effects than medication.
What will an Osteopath do?
Initially, a detailed case history and clinical examination of the patient will be done to eliminate underlying pathology, which may require referral for more specialist assessment.
Osteopaths may use a variety of techniques, all of which could help ease headaches. These could include:
- Gentle structural osteopathic techniques, including manipulation
- Gentle soft tissue massage
- Lymphatic drainage techniques
- Trigger point therapy
- Western Acupuncture
- Tailored exercise and stretching programmes to include in your daily routine
- Low Level Laser Therapy, when appropriate.
If you would like to discuss headaches which you might be experiencing, Robin would be happy to talk to you with no further obligation.
In the meantime, click here to read testimonials from some of my clients who have found our techniques helpful in easing their symptoms.