Headaches are a very common condition that most people will most likely experience many times during their lives. The main symptom of a headache is pain in your head or face. This can be throbbing, constant, sharp, or dull. Having a headache is one of the most common pain conditions in the world with up to 75% of adults worldwide have experienced a headache in the past year.
Headaches are a major cause of absenteeism from work and school. They also take a toll on social and family life. For some people, continuing battling headaches can lead to feeling anxious and depressed.
Generally, there are more than 150 types of headaches. However, they fall into two main categories, which are primary and secondary headaches, as described below:
Types of Headaches
These are caused by overactivity of / or problems with pain-sensitive structures in your head. Chemical activity in your brain, the nerves, or blood vessels surrounding your skull, or the muscles of your head and neck can play a role in primary headaches. Some patients may also carry genes that make them more likely to develop such headaches.
The most common primary headaches are cluster headaches, migraine, migraine with aura, and tension headaches. A few headache patterns also are generally considered types of a primary headache, but are less common – these headaches have distinct features, such as an unusual duration or pain associated with a certain activity. Although generally considered primary, each headache could be a symptom of an underlying disease, such as chronic daily headaches, cough headaches, and exercise headaches.
A secondary headache is a symptom of a disease that can activate the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. Any number of conditions (varying greatly in severity) may cause secondary headaches. Therefore, some possible causes of secondary headaches include dental problems, hangovers, stroke, blood clots, meningitis, and toxoplasmosis. In addition, some types of secondary headaches include external compression headaches, ice cream headaches, medication overuse headaches, sinus headaches & spinal headaches.
Causes & Symptoms
Generally, the pain you feel during a headache comes from a mix of signals between your brain, blood vessels, and nearby nerves. Specific nerves in your blood vessels and head muscles switch on and send pain signals to your brain. However, it isn’t clear how these signals get turned on in the first place.
The following common causes of a headache are:
Emotional stress and depression as well as alcohol use, skipping meals, changes in sleep patterns, and taking too much medication are all causes that can lead you to headaches. Other causes associated with headaches are neck or back strain due to poor posture.
Environment such as secondhand tobacco smoke, strong smells from household chemicals or perfumes, allergens, and certain foods. Stress, pollution, noise, lighting, and weather changes are other possible triggers of a headache.
This is accompanied by infections, colds, and fevers. Headaches are also common with conditions like sinusitis, a throat infection, or an ear infection. In rare cases, headaches may result from a blow to the head or a sign of more serious complications.
Headache symptoms vary, depending on the type of headache you have. Symptoms linked to headaches include:
Migraines are the second most common type of primary headaches. Symptoms of migraines are nausea, pounding pain, moderate to severe pain, pain that can last hours to 3 consecutive days, sensitivity to light, and abdominal pain.
These are one of the most common types of headaches – tension headache pain tends to be leveled from mild to moderate, affecting both sides of the head, can become worse during routine activities, and may also cause migraines.
These are the most severe type of primary headache. Cluster headaches come in a group or cluster, typically in the spring or fall season. They occur 1-8 times per day during a cluster phase, which can last 2 weeks to 3 months.
The headaches may disappear completely for months or years, only to make a recurrence later. Some of the symptoms of a cluster headache are intense with a burning or stabbing sensation and located behind one of your eyes or in the eye region.
Headaches in teens/children
Most children and teens have had a headache by the time they get to high school. For most of them, tension headaches and migraines are reoccurring issues. Similar to adults, triggers for headaches in children include certain foods that can trigger headaches, environmental risk factors, stress, and changes in their sleep routine.
Who gets a Headache?
Some lifestyle risk factors that can affect any individual and lead to tension headaches are stress, tiredness, or anger. Other risks are smoking and not getting enough sleep. As for health problems, some health issues are linked to tension headaches and tightening of the muscles in the neck, face, and head. These problems include:
- Teeth grinding
- Gum chewing (more prone to children)
- Sleep apnea
- Arthritis in the neck
Triggers can differ in each patient – some general triggers are:
- Skipping meals
- Excessive or too little sleep
- Stressful events
- Smoking tobacco
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Loud or sudden noises
How Does it Affect You? How Serious is it?
Certain complications that are accompanied by headaches / migraines include:
Migraines infarction (Migrainous stroke)
When an ischemic stroke occurs along with a migraine headache, it is known as a migrainous stroke (also known as migrainous infarction). Ischemic strokes occur when blood vessels to the brain are blocked, restricting blood flow. Migraine headaches typically affect only one side of the head and commonly happens with nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light or sound. In some patients, the pain may switch sides each time a migraine occurs. In migrainous strokes, the migraine must occur with aura. Aura is a set of symptoms preceding the migraine, such as flashes of light or tingling in the face or hands.
Migralepsy is a rare event in which you experience a migraine episode with an aura and then a seizure soon afterward. The migraine episode triggers the seizure.
Chronic migraine is defined as having at least 15 headache days a month, with at least 8 days of having headaches with migrainous features, for more than 3 months. Chronic headaches begin as less frequent headache episodes that gradually switch into a more constant headache pattern.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation
Before proceeding into treatment, options to help boost recovery from a headache or migraine may include an interview with a psychologist to identify any stress factors triggering your headaches.
You may be asked to complete a computerized questionnaire to provide in-depth info to the doctor. You might need to take more examination tests to look for other medical conditions that may be causing your headaches or migraines. Some of these imaging tests include:
This is a test in which X-rays and computers are used to produce an image of a cross-section of the body. A CT scan of the head may be recommended to help rule out other conditions if you are getting daily headaches.
This imaging test produces very clear pictures, or images, of the brain without the use of X-rays. It uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to produce these images. An MRI may be recommended if you are getting daily headaches. It may also be recommended if a CT scan does not show enough results. Additionally, an MRI scan is used to evaluate certain parts of the brain that are not as easily viewed with CT scans, such as the spine at the level of the neck and the back portion of the brain.
This test can determine many medical conditions, including diabetes, thyroid problems, and infections.
An eye pressure test performed by an eye doctor will rule out glaucoma or pressure on the optic nerve as a cause of headaches.
During physiotherapy, your physiotherapist will work with you to correct the problems that are causing your pain and help you learn to prevent headaches, possibly through simple changes in your posture and lifestyle. Certain physiotherapy treatment programs can help you:
Improve your strength
Your physiotherapist will teach you exercises to increase the strength of the muscles that help stabilize your upper back and neck to improve your posture and endurance and make it easier for you to sit or stand for long periods of time without discomfort.
Improve your posture
Your physiotherapist will teach you various ways to improve your posture. Whether it’s simply pushing your chest out or pulling your shoulder blades backward and together, slight modifications to everyday living can make a huge improvement in posture.
Improve neck mobility
Physiotherapists use a special technique called manual therapy to help increase movement and relieve pain while stretching the muscles of the back of the neck.
Reduce your stress
Increased stress can increase the tension in your shoulder and neck muscles, which contributes to headaches. A physiotherapist can help you develop a plan to exercise or be physically active on a regular basis to help reduce stress and muscle tension.
Treatment for an underlying condition often stops frequent headaches. If no other condition is found, treatment focuses on preventing pain. your doctor may recommend the following medications for further support:
Some anti-seizure medications work to prevent migraines and might be used to prevent chronic daily headaches as well.
Antidepressants can help treat the depression and anxiety associate with chronic daily headaches.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDSs such as ibuprofen and naproxen may help reduce further pain primarily linked to headaches.
Botox injections provide significant relief for some patients and might be an option for people who do not tolerate daily medication as often as others.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment
There are several alternative options that may help boost your recovery when a headache has been presented. Some include acupuncture, caffeine, hydration, heat and cold compression, etc. The following below will describe each homeopathic treatment you can try either at home or elsewhere, including the following:
The first thing to try to get rid of a headache without drugs is to drink enough water or an electrolyte beverage. This helps because dehydration is a common cause of headaches. This is especially useful to get rid of a headache that results from drinking alcoholic beverages.
Many headaches respond to caffeine; a cup of caffeinated tea or coffee can often be used to resolve a headache. Cluster headaches and migraines are most responsive to caffeine.
Heat and cold compression
Applying a hot compress to the back of the neck or forehead can relax tension. For some people, a cold compress may feel much better. In addition, a combination of heating creams and self-massage into the sore muscles of the neck or upper back can help relax the muscles.
Acupuncture can be effective for certain headaches, like chronic headaches and migraines. The acupuncturist will assess the type of headache with a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis, and treat the headache with needles in certain areas.
Self-massage around the temples, shoulders, and back of the head can help tension headaches. Massage, either self-massage or with a massage therapist, can both resolve chronic neck and shoulder tension that can cause headaches.