Back behind the wheel: Headaches: The basics to being pain free

by Dr. Jerry Singh, B. Kin., D.C.

Headaches, mid/upper back stiffness and low back pain with sciatica type symptoms – if you make your living behind the wheel, those are the three most common conditions from which you likely suffer. For the next three issues I am going to discuss each one in detail, delving into the causes and treatments that are available to you.

Does anyone have a headache right now? If you do, you’re in luck, because this issue is all about that.

Headaches are probably one of the most common neuromusculoskeletal conditions that do not discriminate between age or sex. Unfortunately, some headaches can be severe and debilitating, affecting your ability to function on a day-to-day basis, while others are benign and disappear. There are many different kinds of headaches, with many different causes. Tension, cervicogenic and migraines are three common types.

Tension type headaches are most common, and usually associated with tight muscles of the neck and upper back area. These headaches generally develop gradually, and are usually associated with stress, anxiety, depression and poor posture. Muscles of the head and neck get “tight” producing pain. Symptoms include: a constant, dull, squeezing, pressure and achy sensation that is felt on both sides of the head into the forehead and the back of the head. These headaches can become severe and constant and can interfere with concentration and daily activities. Treatment for these types of headaches is focused on relieving muscle tension.

Cervicogenic headaches originate from the neck. These headaches are very common but are often misdiagnosed due to the similarity to tension headaches. These headaches are caused from neck joints, ligaments, muscles and discs, which are either injured or irritated. The pain results from the irritation of the nerves that supply the damaged area and refer pain into the head. The pain is often described as dull or achy but not stabbing pain. The treatment of cervicogenic and tension headaches are very similar. Restoring proper joint motion of the neck is important for the treatment of both types of headaches. But for the treatment of cervicogenic headaches it’s critical the spine is aligned and joint function is normal.

The precise causes of migraine headaches are unknown, but it is believed to be related to the changes in blood flow to the brain and its coverings. These types of headaches are probably the second most common, affecting women more often than men. Unfortunately, these headaches can be very severe, leaving the individual incapacitated for minutes, hours or even days. Photophobia (light sensitivity), phonophobia (sound sensitivity), nausea and vomiting are common symptoms. Food is a common trigger for migraines. Especially chocolate, aged cheeses, nuts, bananas, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), red wine and aged, canned cured or processed meats. While that may certainly restrict your diet, it doesn’t mean it has to be steak and potatoes from now on. Treatment can include medication, diet modification and chiropractic care.

Most headaches are due to stresses placed on the body. Physical and mental stress, repetitive movements, poor posture, vision (straining your eyes), the weather and trauma are just a few of the things that can trigger a headache.

Eliminating or reducing these stresses in most cases will reduce the severity of the headache.

Did you know that studies have shown that headaches are among the top five most expensive health conditions in the work force? One in six people suffer from migraines. In fact, 10.6 per cent of school children (five – 15 years of age) have been diagnosed with a migraine. These facts and figures demonstrate the prevalence of headaches in the general population.

Fortunately, most headaches can be managed successfully with proper education and care. However, a headache can be an indication of a more serious problem (ie. brain tumors). Be careful with a severe new headache, old ones that are getting progressively worse or ones that appear after trauma to the head/neck. You should visit a health professional to ensure that there are no serious underlying problems.

The next time you get a headache, think about what you have done that day. What have you eaten? Where and when did you get the headache? How do they feel (describe)? Answer these questions, write them down and keep track of your headaches. The more information that you can provide your health professionals, the better equipped they are to correctly diagnose the type of headache you have.

Most headaches can be treated effectively. Chiropractic is only one of many effective methods in the treatment of headaches. Spinal manipulation, deep massage along with a comprehensive stretching/strengthening program can alleviate many of the symptoms, if not decrease/eliminate your headaches all together.

Next month I will discuss upper back and shoulder stiffness.

– Dr. Jerry Singh, B. Kin., D.C., runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 888-252-7327, or e-mail

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