We’ve all experienced going to our parents when we were younger and complaining of a headache, only to be told, “See! You didn’t drink enough water, that’s why you have a headache!” When we got older, headaches would come sometimes after a long day, but would go off after a good night’s sleep.
For some of us, though, headaches may appear more often, be more severe, disrupt our lives, and make us feel miserable. Conflicting answers to our questions may not help – we’re told to drink more water, eat different supplements, go for acupuncture… When we might not even know if what we’re having is a headache or a migraine, or if both are the same thing!
Here are 10 questions that are frequently asked in the clinician’s room regarding headaches, so that you can begin to understand your condition even better.
1) What’s the difference between headaches and migraines? How do I know which one I have?
Headaches are divided into TWO categories:
Based on SYMPTOMS, and include:
1) Tension-type headaches,
2) Cluster headaches,
3) Migraines, and
4) Cervicogenic headaches.
Based on CONDITIONS, and include:
2) Head injury,
3) Substance withdrawal (drugs, alcohol, caffeine, etc.),
4) Conditions of eyes, ears, sinuses, etc. and more
Many people with recurring headaches have primary headaches. Tick the checklists of these boxes to figure out which type of primary headache you have:
|A. Tension-type headaches
– Feels like a pressure or tightening around your head
– Doesn’t pulsate
– No nausea or vomiting
– No sensitivity or light or sound, OR only sensitivity to one
– Still able to go about your daily activities
– Pain on ONE side of your head, pulsating
– Stops you from doing your daily activities
– Nausea or vomiting
– Sensitivity to light or sound
– May have vision changes (seeing bright lights, blind spots) or tingling in face
– Symptoms gets worse when you move around
|C. Cluster headaches
– Severe pain on ONE side of your head
– Pain lasts 15 minutes to 3 hours
– Forehead/facial sweating
– Stuffy or runny nose, eye tearing up on the same side of headache
– Swelling of the eyelid on the same side of headache
|D. Cervicogenic Headaches
– Pain starts in the neck or base of the skull, and may go up to one side OR both sides of your head
– Pain gets worse when you hold your neck in a certain position for a long time (Sitting at the desk looking at the computer screen)
– Movement of your neck may make it feel better OR worse
– Pressing the muscles around your neck makes it feel better
2) Do migraines or headaches cause any damage to my brain?
There has not been any proven research showing that migraines or headaches cause brain damage. Some research evidence has shown that sufferers of migraine with aura (seeing flashing lights, wavy lines, dots, or blurry vision, or blind spots, 20-60 minutes before a migraine) have an increased risk of stroke. However, in young people with NO other risk factors (e.g. high blood pressure, obesity, history of smoking, etc.) the risk of stroke is minimal.
3) Why is it when my neck is painful, my head starts to hurt?
This is what we call a cervicogenic headache. The joints of our spine around our neck and the muscles surrounding it connect to our head. When we have stiffness around our neck and shoulders (from our spine or our muscles), they can cause the radiation of pain from the neck to our head. Keeping our head and neck in static positions, such as looking too long at the computer screen, can trigger that tension and stiffness, resulting in headaches.
4) I feel tired all the time. Is it related to my headaches?
You might want to ask yourself several questions when you’re feeling tired all the time: Are you getting enough uninterrupted sleep at night? Are you drinking enough water (At least 2 litres) per day? Are you currently taking any medication? How are your mental and emotional stress levels?
Inadequate sleep and hydration are lifestyle factors that influence headaches a lot. Lack of sleep and hydration may cause constriction of small blood vessels around your head and neck, and result in the tiredness that you feel as well as headaches. Certain medications such as allergy or flu medication may cause drowsiness.
Mental and emotional stress causes tension around the muscles of your head and neck resulting in physical fatigue, but can also result in mental fatigue. Over the long term, mental fatigue can result in burnout and physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.
5) Does weather have any effect?
Heat-induced headaches (such as a headache after you’ve been walking outside in the hot sun) can be partly due to dehydration. If you have a history of migraines (See Question 1 to identify if your headaches are migraines or the common tension headaches), bright light and sudden changes in temperature can be a trigger for migraines.
To determine whether your headache is due to dehydration from the hot weather, drink a few glasses of water or juice (not caffeine or soda!) and see if your headache goes off in 30 minutes to 2 hours. If it doesn’t, it may be a migraine trigger for you.
6) Why do my headaches get worse when I’m on my period?
Hormonal changes during your period can be a trigger for migraines due to changing levels of estrogen and progesterone. The use of heat packs, gentle neck stretches and exercises, and lifestyle factors such as reducing caffeine and getting enough sleep can help regulate these changes. If migraines during your period are severe enough to stop you from going about your daily life, please consult a doctor for further advice!
7) I find myself having to take painkillers often… Are there any side effects to my body?
Long-term use of painkillers to relieve your headache can cause over-dependence and you may get used to the dosage, causing you to take a higher dosage to get relief. Too much painkiller use over long periods of time may result in liver damage. If your painkiller of choice is a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID), it may result in bleeding of your stomach lining. If you find yourself having to take painkillers regularly (multiple times a week) to relieve your headaches, please consult a doctor to further determine the cause of your severe headaches.
Too much painkiller use over long periods of time may result in liver damage.
8) Are there any treatments which are non-medication based that are effective?
A physiotherapist can help by teaching you certain relaxation methods, exercises, and stretches around the shoulder, neck and head so you learn to manage and prevent headaches. Adjustments by a chiropractor can help to modulate pain mechanisms and reduce headaches. Other alternative treatments such as acupuncture and massage have also been shown to bring relief. Discuss it with your trusted healthcare professional to start identifying what treatments will be best suited for your condition and body!
9) Will the headaches ever completely disappear?
Whether it will completely disappear depends on the cause of your headaches. Understanding the cause of your headaches/migraines, as well as your triggers, will be very helpful in managing the occurrence and severity of it. With lifestyle changes, preventing triggering factors, and knowing ways to stretch, move, or even breathe, can go a long way in minimising the effect of headaches in your life with minimal medication use.
10) Is there anything I can do NOW to help?
Of course! First: Get enough sleep and hydration. Second: Get moving and breathing right.
Here are stretches to try out when you’re feeling the tension around your head and neck:
Breathing is also a big factor in reducing headaches if your triggers are muscle tension and stress. Focusing on belly breathing can help to reduce the tension around our shoulders, neck, and head, and be an exercise that we use to prevent headaches. Head on over to our post “Improve your breathing for a healthier life” to find out if you’re a belly breather or chest breather.
Here are Spinefit, our clinicians are trained to assess and treat headaches, as well as provide lifestyle modification advice for you. Contact us through WhatsApp at (+60193417572) or use the chat box below to find out more information on how we can help.