Everyone has suffered from a headache at one point or another, often frequently. But for something that happens to us so often, a lot of us don’tr really know a lot about headaches. For instance, did you know that there is a chemical in cheese that can trigger a headache? Or that there are different types of headaches that respond to different treatments? Since headaches are often one of the first reasons you visit a chiropractor, we felt it might be helpful to compile an informative guide to help you better understand and therefore manage your headaches more effectively.
What are they?
A headache, medically known as cephalalgia, is a continuous pain in the head. The pain can be located anywhere in the head or neck. As the brain has no pain receptors, headaches are not felt in the brain. The pain is caused by disturbances of the pain-sensitive structures around the brain. Doctors at the American Academy of Neurology have determined that there are 4 different types of headaches.
1. Vascular Headaches which are caused by swelling of the blood vessels and an increase/decrease of blood flow to the head. The most common type being a migraine. Migraine sufferers will usually experience severe pain on both sides of their head, coupled with light sensitivity and nausea or vomiting.
2. Tension Headaches (also known as ‘everyday headaches’) are caused by the tightening/tensing of facial and neck muscles and account for nearly 90% of all headaches.
3. Traction Headaches – these are usually caused by pulling or stretching pain-sensitive parts of the head, as may occur during eyestrain and eye muscles are tensed. Traction headaches are most often caused by poor posture and awkward sleeping or sitting positions.
4. Inflammatory headaches – these headaches are symptoms of other illnesses and disorders, like the flu, sinus infections and meningitis.
Why do they happen?
Unfortunately, there a wealth of things that can trigger headaches. We’ve talked about a few of them, like bad posture, muscle tension and illness. Some other common triggers include:
Stress is one of the main causes of tension headaches and migraines. Whether you’re stressed about work, finances, or an upcoming family vacation- it’s not unlikely for you to get a headache.
Consumed in moderation, caffeine can actually be pretty good for you- and is even found in a lot of over the counter headache medications. However, if you’re caffeine dependent, going without it abruptly can give you withdrawal headaches. Too much caffeine can also trigger migraines, so moderate your intake as much as possible.
3. Certain foods
Foods rich in tyramine like aged cheeses, processed meats, and red wine are known headache triggers. If you eat a lot of sugar and dairy, you might also suffer from additive induced headaches.
4. Hunger and dehydration
If you skip meals, or suffer from low blood sugar, it’s you might be at risk for developing a hunger headache. However, don’t try to cure a hunger headache with a candy bar. Sweets cause blood sugar to spike and then drop even lower. You can also get a headache from dehydration, so make sure you keep drinking lots of water.
Lack of sleep, and exhaustion from physical exertion also can cause headaches.
Cigarettes are known to cause headaches, and don’t just affect those smoking the cigarette. Secondhand smoke also contains nicotine which restricts blood flow to the brain, which causes headaches.
. But don’t try to cure a hunger headache with a candy bar. Sweets cause blood sugar to spike and then drop even lower.
How can I prevent them?
1. Keep a headache journal.
If you find that you’re getting headaches frequently, monitor when they happen and make a note of what you were eating, doing or feeling before it happened. If you notice a pattern in the cause of headaches, consider cutting out that particular activity or avoiding that food.
2. Take care of yourself.
Make sure that you’re eating sensibly, drinking enough water and getting enough sleep. Often headaches are a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices, so taking care of yourself is a good place to start healing.
3. Manage your stress.
Find effective ways to deal with your stress, like breathing exercises and yoga. If the stress is extreme, you might want to consider removing yourself from the stressful situation entirely, or maybe seeing a therapist to help you talk through and expend your feelings.
4. Try physical therapy
Physical therapy combines exercise and education to reduce pain and improve range of motion. In people with tension headaches, physical therapy may help the neck muscles and establish new habits that lead to better posture. Regular chiropractic sessions can also assist in improving your posture and getting rid of muscle tension.
If you try all these things, and are still experiencing chronic headache pain, you should call your doctor. Chronic headaches can seriously affect your quality of life and could be an indicator of a more serious condition.
Hopefully this post has helped you gain a broader understanding of what headaches are, and what causes them. Remember to take good care of yourselves.