Different Types of Headaches
As an osteopath, I see a lot of patients afflicted with headaches. Headaches are often poorly managed, and diagnosis can be unclear. Even though some symptoms may be frightening, most headaches do not require urgent medical attention. However some headaches do and if you experience any of the following symptoms you should contact your local surgery immediately:
- Sudden onset severe headache that you haven’t experienced before.
- If the headache doesn’t go away or gets worse with time.
- The headache is following a head injury.
- Signs of muscular weakness, slurred speech, memory loss, confusion or drowsiness.
- If you have additional symptoms such as a temperature, neck stiffness, a rash, pain on chewing, vision problems, a sore scalp or redness in one of your eyes.
Now we have the serious stuff out of the way, here are the three most common headache types:
Tension headaches are very common. They are often described as a ‘tight band’ of pain that wraps across the forehead and temples. The scalp, neck and shoulders may feel tender to the touch, and the headache can last anywhere from 30 minutes to most of the day. Tightening of the soft issues around the head and neck causes these headaches but the exact trigger is unknown. It is generally accepted that stress may play a role but not necessarily be the major component.
2. Cervicogenic (of the neck)
Cervicogenic headaches originate in the neck, or at the base of the skull. They can cause pain that spreads into the back of the head and into the eyes & face. The pain can be severe and patients can experience some nausea with throbbing (that does confuse the diagnosis with migraines). These headaches are often caused tight neck/shoulder muscles (poor desk/VDU posture for example) that irritate the nerves that supply the scalp and face.
Migraines are perhaps the most complex headache in this list. It is rare for patients to seek osteopathic treatment for an active migraine as the pain and secondary symptoms can be quite debilitating and make it difficult to leave the house. These symptoms can include severe pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light. One sign that you are suffering from a migraine is called an ‘aura.’ This may be a strange feeling, or sense that the headache is coming on. Some people may be affected by visual disturbances such as gaps in their vision, or flashing lights. Migraine headaches can affect everyone differently, and some people have no ‘aura’ at all. The exact cause for these headaches is unknown, but it is thought that symptoms may be due to spasms and inflammation of the brain’s blood vessels. Migraine triggers are usually personal and can be related to stress, diet, and hormonal changes.
Research has shown that osteopathic treatment and acupuncture can help with headaches arising from the neck and can help with migraine prevention. Good management of symptoms, the right medication approach, and a better understanding of headache triggers can make a big difference to headache sufferers.
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