Treating a Headache that really isn’t in Your Head
Headaches can come from a wide variety of sources—eyestrain, stress, allergies or sinus pressure, caffeine or alcohol withdrawal, and sleep disorders among them—but as strange as it sounds, one common source of headache pain that lasts for days might not actually be in your head.
In truth, headache pain signals don’t come directly from the brain. They’re caused by an interaction between the brain, blood vessels, head and neck muscles, and aggravated nerves around the head. Also true: the way people commonly treat (or don’t treat) headaches may make them worse.
TENSION OR STRESS
Tension or stress headaches are often brought on by musculoskeletal problems in the neck, and the pain is “referred” to the head from the actual source of the dysfunction in the neck (in medical terms a cervicogenic headache). While many people may turn to medication for headache relief, when your headache is cervicogenic in nature the medicine alone doesn’t correct the cause of the problem, but merely temporarily relieves the symptoms–and over time may cause more harm. If your headaches are stemming from your neck, there is often a way to eliminate the root cause through physical therapy.
DID YOU KNOW?
Long-term use of pain medications and over-the-counter pain relievers including aspirin, acetaminophen, and other NSAIDs can eventually result in what are called “rebound headaches” that often grow worse over time. Additionally, overuse of these medications may cause damage to the liver and stomach lining.
TREATING THE ROOT CAUSE
In neck-related headaches, the most common cause is posture. Poor postural habits over time, either during work, leisure or sleep, may result in the soft tissues of the neck and shoulders becoming shortened, weakened, overstretched, or overworked. A physical therapist works with clients to correct these postural dysfunctions, and many of these types of headaches are successfully treated, without recurrence or significantly reduced in frequency.
SYMPTOMS OF NECK-RELATED HEADACHES
According to the International Headache Society, the main symptoms of cervicogenic headaches are:
- Pain that is localized to the neck and back of the head (occipital region) and may project to the forehead, eye area (orbital region), temples, jaw joint (TMJ), and ears;
- Pain is brought on or aggravated by specific neck movements or sustained neck postures; or
At least one of the following:
- Resistance to or limitation of passive neck movements.
- Changes in neck muscle contour, texture, tone, or response to active and passive stretching and contraction.
- Abnormal tenderness of neck muscles.
LET US HELP
If you are suffering from tension or stress headaches, consider a PT evaluation to see if physical therapy can help cure your headaches. Call us today at 603-643-7788, contact us with questions, get directions, and learn about payment and insurance.
After PT with Bill Cioffredi “…the pain that had been with me for over two decades was gone. When I feel a headache coming on (only occasionally…no longer an integral part of my head), I do some exercises on the spot, which causes the pain to diminish and sometimes dissipate altogether.”–Becky T
HEADACHE FUN FACTS & TRIVIA
- CEPHALGIA is the medical term for headache.
- BRAIN FREEZE IS REAL Ice cream headaches, or “brain freeze,” brought on by intense cold stimulus to the palate and throat causes spasms in blood vessels, which interrupts blood flow and causes vessels to swell.
- MEN get more cluster headaches, and WOMEN get more migraines.
HOME REMEDIES FOR HEADACHES (Trivia only–not recommended!)
- Western Kentucky lore called for eating a spider’s web to cure a headache. (Though nutritionally harmless, this may cause hysteria when done accidentally.)
- Ancient Greeks and Romans applied raw potato, cabbage, and onion to the head to attempt to treat headaches.
- In Medieval times, severe headaches were treated by drilling small holes in the skull (to let the demons out).
- A shocking home remedy from a 1762 treatise calls for putting one hand on your head and the other on an electric eel.
- Dropping something heavy on your foot or hitting your thumb with a hammer will distract you from headache pain (though this method may cause more problems…).