Given that over 90% of the population will experience headache at some stage of their lives, it’s not surprising that headaches are one of the common presenting complaints we see here at Lifespan.
Most people would say they’ve experienced a mild, one- off headache that didn’t interfere with their plans, or that disappeared when they popped some paracetamol.
However, when the headache is more severe, reoccurs periodically, or doesn’t respond to mild pain relief, it can literally stop you in your tracks.
If you’re experiencing a form of headache that strikes out of the blue, can force you to miss time off work or interfere with your ability to look after yourself or your children, this post is for you. It outlines the top 3 causes of headache, and some self-help strategies you can implement to help minimise the impact they have on your everyday life.
If you are pregnant and experiencing headaches, we’ve written another post that you may like to read.
There are many different types of headaches, but the 3 most common are:
1. Tension headache:
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache.
They are usually mild to moderate in intensity, and felt on both sides of the head.
Many of our patients tell us they also feel ‘tight’ or ‘tense’ in their upper back and neck.
The onset is often gradual, and, unlike migraine, they are not aggravated by physical activity.
Sufferers often report trouble concentrating and difficulty sleeping, as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Around 60% of tension headache sufferers report that these headaches impact on their social and work capacities, and three quarters of sufferers experience these headaches for five years or more. So- far from being “just a bit of a headache”, tension headaches can in fact cause signficant disability and have a huge impact on sufferer’s lives.
Around a third of men and almost half of all women experience tension headaches.
For most people, they will start suffering them in their teens, and many find they seem to be at their worst during their thirties, possibly due to the compounding stresses of work, family and life in general that many people experience at this stage of their lives.
Triggers for tension headaches include jaw clenching, poor posture, stres, anxiety, fatigue, and depression .
Does this sound like you?
If so, some things you can try include:
- getting enough sleep,
- regular exercise,
- relaxation techniques such as meditation,
- heat packs, and finally,
- manual therapies such as Osteopathy to help restore optimal local tissue health and mobility.
Migraines are usually described as an intense throbbing sensation, and can be felt on one or both sides of the head.
Migraines affect about 15% of the population, and and often first appears in childhood, adolescence or early adulthood.
Migraine may be aggravated by physical activity.
Women are three times more likely than men to suffer migraines, and they often run in families, however, studies show that only around half of migraine sufferers have been medically diagnosed.
It is thought that migraines are caused by temporary changes in blood vessels and chemicals in the brain, however the true cause is not known.
About a quarter of migraine sufferers will experience what is knows as “classic migraine”, where their headache is accompanied by symptoms such as:
- nausea and sensitivity to light, or
- aggravated by certain smells.
Many migraine sufferers find taking prescription medications helpful for prevention of attacks, or pain relief once one strikes.
Often our migraine patients will know some of their triggers, such as too much bright light or caffeine, and a large part of their prevention lies in knowing your triggers, and avoiding these. Some women also notice hormonal links, such as getting a migraine every month when they have their period.
Smoking and the use of some oral contraceptives are advised against in migraine sufferers, as it raises the risks of complications such as stroke.
A potential migraine trigger which is often overlooked, or at least difficult to avoid in this modern era, is computer use, especially when combined with poor posture. If you think that your desk setup is contributing to your migraines, some Lifespan Osteopaths are available to provide on-site ergonomic assessments to provide tailored advice for your job type and physical condition.
Migraine sufferers often benefit from sticking to a strict sleep schedule, as even slight changes, such as sleeping in on the weekend, can trigger an attack.
Pain in the upper back, neck, jaw or scalp, may also trigger an attack, and Osteopathy may be helpful in the treatment of this.
Finally, regular exercise may help prevent migraines, however, sudden, excessive or vigorous exercise may trigger one.
3. Cluster headache:
These headaches are usually felt as minutes to hours of excruciating, burning pain on one side ot the head.
Attacks occur in ‘clusters’, over a period of weeks to months.
Pain may also be felt around the eye, which may water, or your nose may run or feel blocked.
Cluster headaches are intense. Sufferers are often completely incapacitated when they’re having an attack.
Cluster headaches are most common in men ages 30-40 years, although we have seen these affect both men and women of all ages.
There appears to be an association between smoking and cluster headaches, as they mostly affect people who either currently smoke, or who have smoked in the past.
During an attack, any substance that dilates the blood vessels, the most commonly used of which are cigarettes and alcohol, should be avoided. There may also be some benefit to maintaining regular sleep patterns, quitting smoking, as well as avoiding strenuous physical activity and high altitudes.
If you think you are suffering from cluster headaches, you should speak to your GP, as there are also a variety of presciption medications that may assist in the prevention of attacks, or the minimisation of a cluster once it occurs.
Where to now?
If you’ve read this far, chances are you’re suffering some form of headache that’s persistent or severe enough to bother you.
Aside from the specific self help strategies for each headache outlined above, awareness and improvement of your posture, as well as regular stretching to the upper back and neck muscles usually helps.
If you would like more information on this topic, please email us, and we’ll send you our free 4-part video series on deaf help strategies for upper back and neck pain once it’s up and running (we’re working on in now!).