What to do with your Headache Pain

Headaches & Migraines

Headaches & Migraines

Headaches are a pain in the… well, you know… head! We have all experienced some type of headache pain, whether it has been due to stress, migraines, or even lack of caffeine.

But, what truly is a headache and how are they being caused?

Most people don’t understand the four types of headaches:

  • 1) Migraine or Vascular Headache
  • 2) Tension or Muscular Headache
  • 3) Cluster or Inflammatory Headache
  • 4) Cervicogenic Headache

Migraine or Vascular Headaches

The true source of these types of headaches are unknown. A few triggers could include vascular changes, hormonal changes, different foods, stress, lack of or too much sleep, and even a change in environment.

Often times, patients will describe the start of a migraine as an Aura, typically involving a loss of focus, spots of darkness, or even zig-zag lights. A few symptoms might include considerable fatigue, neck stiffness, light sensitivity, nausea, blurred vision, irritability, or depression, lasting anywhere from 2-48 hours.

 


Tension or Muscular Headaches

These headaches are typically caused by any sort of trauma to the neck/head, such as a blow to the head, fall, motor vehicle accident, or even whiplash, with symptoms typically beginning after a prolonged period of time after the initial incident.

A few contributing factors include trauma, abnormal posture, spasms of the muscles on the back of our neck, or even psychogenic factors, such as stress and anxiety, depending on where we hold our tension. A large amount of patients are those who work in high-stress environments, such as nurses.

Most symptoms are chronic, constricting, bilateral (both sides of the head/face), and will often radiate into the neck and shoulders, but most commonly into a Ram’s Horn distribution, starting from the neck, around the backside of our ears, up into the temples.

 


Cluster or Inflammatory Headaches

These headaches are known as the worst type of headache. While they are not too common, it was found that nearly 30% of people will experience one episode.

One key factor related to these headaches are that most symptoms are ipsilateral (one side of the head/face). Therefore, you might experience a watery eye, running of the nose, forehead sweating, constriction of the pupil, or a drooping eyelid all on the affected side of the head or face.

 


Cervicogenic Headaches

Last but not least, this headache is often contributed through sustained postures, spasms of the Suboccipital muscles (four small muscles at the base of our skull), disc injury, or abnormal postures of the head and neck.

Patients will complain of one-sided neck pain, stiff neck, sustained abnormal/awkward postures, and pain in the temples or behind the eyes (often like a stabbing pain straight into the eye). Often times, we notice these patients work at desk jobs, typically with rounded shoulders and forward head.

 


So now that you’ve gained all of this knowledge, how are we going to fix it?

Well, it’s a great blessing that we happen to know a few friends at Preferred Physical Therapy! There are multiple treatment techniques and exercises that can be provided for you.

These might include relaxation techniques, relaxing the muscles on the back of our neck and base of our skulls, modalities (heat, ice, TENS), and even dry needling (YES! Dry needling works wonders for those tight muscles).

Exercises would be focused on posture awareness, making sure your shoulders blades are set down-and-back and your head is squared on your shoulders with your chin tucked in.
Headaches are a nuisance to our everyday lives, so why deal with them any longer?
Here are a few tips I would like to leave you with:

  • Set up your work space with consideration of your 8-9 hour per day posture
  • Find ways to reduce stress, such as deep breathing, yoga, or recreational activities and exercise
  • Reset your shoulder blades every so often, pinching them down and back
  • When your headache is in full-force, try resting in a dark room, removing yourself from any stimuli
  • Keep a journal of when your headaches are present, keeping a log of any stresses, events, or even food or hormonal changes, noticing any continual triggers
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day

Written by Hannah Anderson, SPT

Hannah is physical therapy student from Midwestern University.  She loves to play softball and is currently playing in a city league team.  She has less than 2 years before she finishes her education in PT begins her career.

 

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Nick Hunter, PT, DPT
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