Recall the last time you had a headache? Waking up in the morning, ready to start your day and feeling the tension in your head grow. Or a stressful work week made only more irritable by that discomfort at the forefront of your mind? Every single day, an estimated 1 in 4 of us will be suffering from a headache and we wonder why the workplace can be a stressful environment. Headaches can lead to an array of symptoms such as decreased concentration levels, irritability and reduced quality of sleep. However, some types of headaches can result in constant debilitating pain and reduced quality of life.

Many of us put up with the head pain. The World Health Organisation has placed different headache subtypes in the top 10 most disabling disorders, with migraines among the top 5 [1,2]. Every single day at least 1 in 25 people are suffering from a headache of varying severity and duration [2,3] with as many as 1 in 3 people having up to 15 episodes a month.

What are the most common types of headaches?

Tension Type Headaches

Tension headaches are a very common sub-type of headaches. Picture this; you’ve been sitting at your desk for the last two hours, jumping between meetings, juggling multiple tasks at your computer, when you feel your neck muscles tighten and the pressure building across your forehead. Seem familiar? If the answer is yes, most likely you are experiencing a tension-type headache.

Symptoms

  • Sensation of tightness and or pressure across the front and sides of the head. Often described as ‘a band squeezing the head’
  • Sensitivity in the upper neck and shoulder muscles 

Causes

Tension type headaches are typically caused by a variety of factors. The most common causes presenting in primary healthcare are:

  • Stress and or anxiety
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Irregular eating patterns
  • Visual disturbances
  • Dehydration
  • Caffeine withdrawal
  • Poor posture and uncomfortable working conditions

Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches are another common type of headache that have an unusual presentation on the surface as the pain experienced is not actually within the ‘head’. The pain experienced originates from bony structures or soft tissues within or around the neck (cervical spine) which then refers upwards into the head. It is a very common condition that very regular turns into a chronic condition.

Cervicogenic headaches are therefore classified as secondary headaches due to the pain arising from the neck as opposed to the head. There are numerous nerves supplying these structures, and when they become irritated, they increase in sensitivity and begin to radiate pain into the head.

Symptoms

  • Unilateral head pain
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Head/facial pain aggravated by neck movements
  • Tenderness around the back of the skull
  • Sensitivity in shoulder muscles

Causes

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • History of whiplash or trauma to the neck
  • Arthritis
  • High levels of stress
  • Temporomandibular joint disorders (jaw pain)

Migraines

Migraines are a very common condition and suggested to be the third most common disease in the world for both males and females [3,4]. Each year over 10 days of work absenteeism can be related to migraineurs alone. However, even with the large prevalence of sufferers, their exact cause is currently not certain [3]. It is proposed that certain triggers (whether dietary, stress or lifestyle induced) can set off a mechanism within the brain which produces inflammatory substances to irritate vascular and neural structures within the head [1,3].

Symptoms

  • Throbbing/pulsating one sided head and facial pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision or visual disturbances (aura)
  • Light sensitivity, sound and smell
  • Light-headedness

Common Triggers

  • Hormonal changes in women such as fluctuations in oestrogen
  • Certain foods such as aged cheeses or processed high sodium foods
  • Refined sugar
  • Caffeine or alcohol
  • Stress
  • Psychological disorders
  • Medication overuse 

Can anything be done to stop my headaches?

  • Are they diet and hydration based? Using a headache or migraine diary and discussing it with your healthcare provider can make huge steps to reducing the frequency of attacks.
  • Are they stress or anxiety based? Stress reducing factors such as therapeutic massage, yoga, meditation and osteopathic treatment can help to calm the nervous system, reduce both stress and anxiety and work to lessen it as a trigger.
  • Are they musculoskeletal? If you are having stiffness, discomfort or something just not feeling quite right in your upper back, neck, head or jaw having an assessment can determine how much it is impacting your symptoms and what can be done to resolve them. Poor posture and increased tension may start across the shoulders, but many sufferers at some stage experience related headaches. Restoring mobility to the restricted joints, reducing muscle tension and discomfort can help to set you on the road to being headache free [1, 4, 5, 6, 7].

Time to Find a Solution

Your headaches may generally start off as a nuisance but can potentially end up giving you a lot of hassle. If you suffer from headaches it is important to be aware that there are various ways that you can target your symptoms. The most important point to take away is that headaches are not ‘normal’ or ‘natural. The severity and frequency of headaches can be assessed and improved and significantly recuperate your quality of life improved.

If you are tired of recurrent annoying headaches or looking for a way to naturally improve symptoms its worth getting checked out. Research has established that osteopathic manipulative treatment can significantly improve patient outcomes [5,6]

Dr Curtis is an osteopath who specialises in treating and managing a wide variety of different joint and muscular problems. So, if you find yourself struggling with the dreaded “Tech Neck” and feel the need for professional advice, get in touch with the clinic to arrange an appointment.

References

  1.  Paolo M and Steiner TJ. Handbook of Headache; Practical Management. Lifting the Burden; Springer (2011).
  2. Stovner L, Hagen K, Jensen R, et al. The global burden of a headache: a documentation of headache prevalence and disability worldwide. Cephalalgia. 2007; 27, 193-210.
  3. The Work Foundation, Society’s Headache; The socioeconomic impact of a migraine. The Work Foundation; 2018.
  4. NHS. Migraines. 2016 [Website – accessed 31/05/18] Via https://www.nhs.co.uk/conditions/migraines/
  5. Moore, Craig S., David W. Sibbritt, and Jon Adams. “A critical review of manual therapy use for headache disorders: prevalence, profiles, motivations, communication and self-reported effectiveness.” BMC neurology 17, no. 1 (2017): 61.
  6. Cerritelli, F., Lacorte, E., Ruffini, N., & Vanacore, N. (2017). Osteopathy for primary headache patients: a systematic review. Journal of pain research10, 601.

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