How many of you have suffered from a headache? Most of us will at some point, and those who already have can attest that headaches are very uncomfortable. Forget uncomfortable, at times they can be debilitating!
There are many different triggers for headaches: environmental causes (such as Chinooks, temperature changes, or air quality), food allergies, work/life stresses, dehydration, muscle tension, joint dysfunction, ligaments, nerves and more. Chronic headaches are becoming so common in today’s world and many Canadians have no idea what is causing them or how they can get relief from the associated pain and discomfort.
As a chiropractor I have been trained to diagnose and assess headaches in order to conclude the root cause. Oftentimes, I see common trends among people who work a 9-5 desk job, have suffered from whiplash in their lifetime, students, or individuals that have a more laboring job/lifestyle that utilizes their upper bodies. What do they all have in common? Headaches, neck and upper to mid back pain and poor posture.
Now how is this all related you ask? Well, there are couple types of headaches that are specifically related to muscle and joint dysfunction:
1) Cervicogenic Headaches – stem from the neck or cervical spine structures and can be triggered or worsened by neck movements
2) Tension-Type Headaches – occur due to tension in the muscles of the neck, face, or upper back and can be triggered or worsened by stress, anxiety, eyestrain, poor posture and other causes.
Posture has a huge role in back and neck dysfunction. For example, text neck is becoming a popular term these days. It is a term used to describe the neck pain and damage sustained from looking down at your cell phone, tablet, or other wireless devices too frequently and for too long. As health care professionals, we are often asked why this type of movement creates acute or chronic neck pain, along with headaches. The fact is for every degree of anterior (forward) head translation there is extra force created on the cervical spine. For example, the average head weighs about 8-10lbs.
Every inch of forward translation can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.
Over time, this added force causes micro tears in the cervical musculature and ligaments leading to neck strains/sprains, which in the long term can weaken the structures in the neck, which can cause chronic headaches as well.
So, how do we treat this? There are many manual therapy techniques that work really well to reduce headaches caused by neck and upper back dysfunction: massage therapy, muscle or fascial release (ART), instrument assisted soft tissue manipulation (such as Graston or FAKTR), shockwave, low level laser therapy, chiropractic joint manipulations/mobilizations, exercises, stretches and more.
What I have found most clinically effective in my practice is a treatment called Medical Acupuncture. The purpose of this treatment is to get deep into the intrinsic muscles of the neck and upper back to alleviate the chronic tension these muscles create on the joints in our spine. Most of the time with headache related pain there are muscles and joints involved that we cannot get to with just our hands, no matter how hard or deep we push. In these cases, the use of acupuncture needles can help us do just that. By addressing the intrinsic muscles causing the headaches, people feel much better faster, and stay better for longer.
Why does this all matter? This gives you, the patient, a more physically comfortable window in which to work on specific stretches and muscle strengthening exercises to prevent the headaches from re-occurring. Some patients tell me no matter how much they exercise or stretch they cannot prevent or get rid of their headaches from occurring. The answer to that is that sometimes we all need some help. Doing stretches/exercises on our own isn’t always as effective as we hope it to be. Sometimes we need to seek care to help reset our bodies so that those stretches and exercises are more effective and preventative. Medical acupuncture can help you do that.
To wrap things up, I want all of you to know you do not need to live with chronic headaches. Take action and let us help you live life pain free!