Headaches affect almost half of the population. Fifteen to twenty percent of all headaches arise from problems in the neck and are classified as “cervicogenic headache.” The most common trigger for cervicogenic headache is limited movement of the joints in your upper cervical spine. Normally, each of the joints in your neck move freely and independently. Sometimes, restrictions in the upper cervical spine initiate a painful cycle of stiffness, muscle tightness and joint inflammation. This may cause irritation to the sensitive nerves leading from your neck into the back of your head.
Cervicogenic headaches are most commonly one-sided, but occasionally may be present on both sides of the head. Pain often radiates from the base of your skull toward the top of your head and sometimes over your eyes. In rare instances, the pain may travel into your arm. These headache episodes may last from hours to days. The pain is continuous but fluctuating and is often described as “deep.” You may also notice chronic neck tenderness and stiffness.
Cervicogenic headache symptoms may be triggered or reproduced by awkward movements and postures. The condition is more common in patients who have recently experienced trauma, especially a motor vehicle accident or an earlier concussion. The condition often affects middle-aged adults and is more common in women at a rate of four to one. Cervicogenic headaches are sometimes accompanied by poor posture, including a “slouched” or “forward head” posture.
Be sure to tell us if you notice your headaches are becoming progressively worse over time, if you experience sudden onset of a severe headache, a new or unfamiliar headache, or if you notice significant neck stiffness, rash, numbness or tingling on your face, light-headedness, dizziness, loss of consciousness, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, difficulty walking, nausea, numbness radiating into your arms or legs, or fever.
Being dehydrated can aggravate or cervicogenic headaches. Make sure that you are drinking 6-8 glasses of water each day, more in hot weather or when you’ve been sweating. Since cervicogenic headaches result from a mechanical problem, medicines are often ineffective. Fortunately, our office has several tools to help solve this problem.
A “migraine” is an intense throbbing headache that may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light or noise. Adult women are three times more likely than men to experience migraines. The frequency of migraine headaches usually peaks between age 30 and 40, and attacks decrease thereafter. The onset of a new migraine headache after age 50 is rare.
Migraine headaches are caused by a combination of nerve irritation and enlargement of the blood vessels in your brain. Migraines tend to run in families and sufferers have inherited a sensitive nervous system from their parents. Patients who are overweight or have other vascular risk factors are more likely to suffer from migraines.
Migraines are set off by “triggers” and the headache occurs when the number of triggers reaches a critical threshold. This can be likened to a glass of water that overflows at a certain point. Known triggers include: neck tightness, stress, smoking, strong odors (i.e. perfumes), bright or flickering lights, fluorescent lighting, too little or much sleep, head trauma, weather changes, motion sickness, cold (ice cream headaches), lack of activity or exercise, overexertion, fatigue, eyestrain, dehydration, hunger, fasting, and hormonal changes, including menstruation and ovulation. Certain medications, including hormones or oral contraceptives are known triggers. A detailed list of foods that trigger migraines is provided below.
About 20-33% of people who get migraines have warning symptoms, called an “aura”, before their actual headache attack. Aura symptoms develop slowly over five to 20 minutes and can last up to an hour. The most common aura is a band of absent vision with an irregular shimmering border. Some patients report numbness or tingling in their arms or face. Be sure to tell your doctor if you experience any confusion or decreased consciousness with your headache. Other signs to watch for include: abrupt headaches that develop and peak very quickly, headaches that develop following a head injury, light-headedness, dizziness, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, difficulty walking, fever, rash, or any “new” headache that is significantly different from your prior headaches.
Many patients benefit from the types of treatment provided in this office. Research has shown a “significant reduction” in migraine frequency and intensity through chiropractic care. Your home management will focus on avoiding “triggers” and stress. You should begin keeping a headache diary to help you track and eliminate triggers. Patients who experience migraines are more susceptible to other types of cardiovascular disease, like heart attack and stroke. Be sure to choose a “heart healthy” diet and keep your weight controlled. Eat at regular intervals and stay well-hydrated as hunger and dehydration are known triggers.
Your doctor may talk to you about supplements like Feverfew, riboflavin, and magnesium that have been helpful for some migraine sufferers. The American Headache Society recommends that patients avoid overuse of medication to control their headaches, (no more than 2 doses per day, 2 days/week) as this can lead to more frequent “rebound” headaches. Do not begin or discontinue any new vitamins or medications without talking to your doctor first, especially if you are nursing or pregnant.