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Understanding headaches

I think it is safe to say that most of us have had a headache at some time in our life. However for an unlucky few, these headaches can become debilitating and affect their ability to function on a day-to-day basis.


I think it is safe to say that most of us have had a headache at some time in our life. However for an unlucky few, these headaches can become debilitating and affect their ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

Fortunately, for the majority of us, a headache is temporary problem, which often disappears relatively quickly. There are many different types of headaches, with various causes, but the two most common types are tension and migraine headaches.

Tension headaches are by far the most common and are often associated with temporary stress, anxiety, fatigue or anger. The cause of tension headaches is increased muscle tonicity of the neck and head muscles. As a result, the joints in your neck become restricted, causing pain. If this continues, the nerves at the base of the skull can become irritated. This leads to the classic tension headache with pain originating at the base of the skull and radiating up the back of the head. Fortunately, this type of headache usually disappears with rest.

In order to eliminate or decrease the severity of this type of headache, you must identify the cause of the muscle tension in your head and neck. Stress, spinal joint dysfunction and poor posture can all contribute to increased muscle tonicity. If stress is the problem, try to eliminate it as much as possible. If you have spinal joint restrictions in your neck, get adjusted by your chiropractor. If you have poor posture, see your physiotherapist and/or a chiropractor. If you have tight muscles, see a registered massage therapist.

Another common type of headache is a migraine. Migraines can be debilitating and literally put your life on hold for a few hours or several days. This type of headache is responsible for more job absenteeism and disrupted family life than any other type of headache. Although the exact cause of migraines is not known, scientists believe it is due to a vascular change within the brain. Blood vessels dilate and the nerves surrounding the blood vessels release chemicals, which causes inflammation resulting in pain.

Migraines are three times more common in women than in men and are most common in young adults in their twenties and thirties. Most migraine sufferers will have two to four headaches per month. In extreme cases, people may experience a couple of headaches per week. A typical headache will last for approximately four hours. Scientists have been trying to determine if there is a genetic predisposition for migraine headaches, but there still is no conclusive evidence suggesting so.

There are different types of migraines, but in general they are very similar in symptomotology. A person who is suffering from a migraine will usually report a hypersensitivity to light and sound. The headache begins as a dull ache and progresses to a constant throbbing or pulsating type of pain that is located on one side of your head. Some people experience an aura or warning signs that precipitate a migraine headache. Usually five to 35 minutes before a headache you may experience visual disturbances such as blind spots, flashing lights or jagged lines which will alert you that a migraine is coming on or is about to occur. This will give you time to prepare yourself for it.

There are certain physical triggers that can cause a migraine headache. Common triggers include stress, caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, lack of sleep, nitrates, red wines, cheese and citrus fruits. It has been suggested that 30% of all migraines are due to a reaction to a certain type of food.

There are many treatments for migraines however, it is important to consult with your physician before beginning any of them.


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