Over 10 million of us in the UK get headaches on a regular basis. The causes and management of headache symptoms are better understood than ever before due to advances in medical research over recent years. This improved knowledge gives us the opportunity to help headache and migraine sufferers.
The muscles that move your head and neck are connected to the bones of your skull, spine, shoulder blades and ribs. Problems with your muscles and joints in these areas, can refer pain to other locations. You will feel this pain around the head, temples and eyes. The referral pattern that you have is due to complex neurological pathways in the brainstem.
Whether it be tension type headache, cervicogenic headaches or migraines, studies have shown that the key to successful management are:
- The correct diagnosis
- Development of a holistic treatment plan
- The right medication
PLEASE NOTE: If you have some of the following symptoms, then please contact your local A&E,GP or neurological consultant:
- Your headache is after a head injury;
- You’re very young or very old;
- The headache is the first and worst headache of your life;
- You have a fever, skin rash or vomiting;
- There is weakness, numbness or tingling associated with your headache;
- You feel faint, dizzy or have a seizure.
A cervicogenic headache is, by its definition any headache which is caused by your cervical spine (neck). The pain you feel will originate in the neck, that spreads to the base of your skull, side of your head or around your eye. The head pain starts as occasional episodes, that develops into a constant ache. The muscles, ligaments, tendons, discs and some of the nerves and blood vessels, can be the source of pain.
The most common cause of a cervicogenic headache, is too much stress to the structures within the upper part of your neck. The risk factors that will contribute to this type of headache include:
- muscle fatigue
- poor posture
- joint wear and tear
- disc degeneration in the neck
- neck trauma
- headache, often one sided
- pain around the eye
- neck pain
- pain made worse with movement
- mild dizziness
- sensitivity to light
A diagnosis of cervicogenic headache, begins with a detailed medical history and physical examination. This is often all that’s needed to make a diagnosis. If your symptoms are very severe or diagnosis isn’t clear, other diagnostic tests will be performed. Tests such as CT, MRI scans or nerve blocks are used to confirm the cause of pain.
Manual therapy such as osteopathy, is shown to be an effective treatment for headaches. The holistic management of cervicogenic headache is normally effective, commonly this approach includes:
- pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs
- postural advice
- massage and trigger point therapy
- joint mobilisation or manipulation
- exercise therapy – headache exercises
- lifestyle advice
A tension headache is the single most common type of headache. Women are twice as likely to suffer from tension headaches than men. Pain can be felt from the top of the neck, around the head and behind your eyes. Your pain can be anything from mild to severe, but most people describe it as feeling like a tight band around their head. Most commonly you may only experience a couple of headaches a month. However, you can develop chronic tension type headaches, classified as a headache that last at least 15 days in a month.
Tension headaches are caused by muscle tension in your head and neck. Many things can trigger your tension including, poor posture, certain foods, physical and emotional stress. Other triggers include:
- to much screen time
- eye strain
The level of discomfort you feel is normally mild to moderate. Rarely pain can be severe, in this case other tests should be done to rule out other causes. Symptoms of a tension headache include:
- dull headache, often both sides
- pressure around your head
- tenderness on your head and scalp
- no nausea
A diagnosis of tension headache, again begins with a thorough medical history and examination. This is normally enough to make a diagnosis. If your symptoms are very bad, other diagnostic tests will be performed. Tests such as CT or MRI scans are used to confirm the cause of your symptoms.
You can take over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol. Although these drugs will not cure the underlying calls, they can make you feel more comfortable. You must take caution when self-medicating, as overusing such meds can result in a rebound headache when the drugs wear off. If your symptoms are particularly bad, your GP may prescribe muscle relaxant and antidepressant medication.
It can be of great benefit to learn ways to cope with stress and ways to relieve tension.
- Counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): Talking therapies can help you recognise stressful situations. Once you know what these situations are, you’re able to learn methods to manage them.
- Get a massage: You can visit a massage practice, such as the Enfield sports massage clinic. Deep tissue massage and trigger point therapy to the soft tissues around the head and neck, will reduce your pain and tension.
- Exercise: Any form of gentle exercise, will improve your general health and overall well-being. When you exercise your brain releases endorphins. These endorphins are known as the brains feel-good chemicals, they improve your mood and reduce your sensitivity to pain.
5 top tips
- take regular breaks from your computer;
- take a hot bath to relax your muscles;
- try a cold pack to your forehead for 5 to 10 minutes;
- keep good posture;
- take up meditation.
Migraine is a common condition affecting as many as one in five women, and one in fifteen men. Migraine Is a complex condition with a variety of potential symptoms. The headache is throbbing in nature, moderate too severe in intensity and normally starts in early adult hood.
Your symptoms will often be different from other individuals, and vary with different attacks. The duration of headache can vary, from hours to several days, they can occur weekly or you may have years between episodes. The common problem with migraines, is the negative impact it can have on your work and family life.
There are different types of migraine headache:
- migraine without aura: the most common form, when your headache begins without any specific warning signs.
- migraine with aura: when you have specific warning signs, 10 to 30 minutes before before your headache starts. These sings can include:
- numbness or tingling in you hands or face;
- changes in your sense of smell, taste, or touch;
- feeling not quite with it;
- seeing flashing lights, spots, shimmering, or lines.
- aura (see above)
- throbbing or pounding headache
- pain affecting one side of your head
- headache made worse when you move
- feeling sick or vomiting
- increased sensitivity to light, sound and smell
Surprisingly, the exact cause of migraine headaches is still unknown. The current beliefIs is that, temporary changes in the brain chemistry, trigger changes in your nerve and blood vessels. These changes give rise to the symptoms that you feel. You may also be genetically predisposed, making you susceptible to certain triggers. Factors like stress, hunger, alcohol, mensuration and lack of sleep may trigger an attack.
Migraines are complex and symptoms are varied. So the treatment you receive will be different from one person to the next. There is no actual cure for migraine, but you should be able to manage your symptoms effectively. There are a number of medications available to help reduce the symptoms of migraines:
- painkillers: such as paracetamol and ibuprofen
- triptans: these medications can help reverse the chemical changes in the brain that may cause migraines
- anti-emetics: to help reduce nausea and vomiting
Many people find it useful sleeping or lying down in a darkened room. There is also growing research that manual therapies for migraines, such as massage and manipulative therapy are helpful.