Head Pain

Among all health complaints, head pain is one of the most common. Recent studies indicate that as much as 48.9% of the population may be suffering from recurrent headaches, and this number is most likely to raise even higher throughout the following years.

Head pain tends to be a multifactorial problem.  This basically means that it needs to be approached with multiple different approaches.  The structural component of head pain can easily be corrected by interventions like chiropractic care.  The muscular component can easily be addressed with muscle techniques including graston (scar tissue removal technique), dry needling, and focused muscle work addressing the cranials and TMJ.  An underlying biochemical component can be causing or contributing to head pain, including possible hormonal imbalances.  Such biochemical imbalances may stem from food allergies or sensitivities, unregulated blood sugar, or thyroid problems.  Many other factors can contribute to head pain and it is important to get at the root of the problem rather than papering it over with ibuprofen — your body is letting you know that something is not right and needs to be addressed.

In most cases, headaches and head pain can be alleviated without resorting to heavy analgesics (painkillers), and this is why functional medicine often brings more relief than conventional approaches. Highly-effective treatments include chiropractic interventions, lifestyle changes, postural changes, exercises and highly customized functional medicine (treating imbalances in your metabolic system).

All cases of head pain can be roughly divided into primary and secondary headaches, depending on whether the pain is the central problem or just a manifestation of some deeper abnormalities.

Primary headache disorders include:

  •  Migraine (close to 15% of all headache cases)
  •  Tension-type headache (around 80% of cases)
  •  Cluster headache (close to 0.1% of cases)

As the name implies, these are individual conditions in which the pain is the primary symptom and concern. They are often strongly associated with environment and lifestyle factors which may trigger or worsen the symptoms and usually treated with NSAIDs (non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, or “over-the-counter painkillers”) in conventional healthcare approaches. When the relief is insignificant, opioids are usually prescribed.  This is not the best treatment approach because it is only treating the symptom “pain” and you are not able to treat the cause of the headache.  When a patient presents with head pain or headaches, it is a warning signal that something is wrong.  This can easily be addressed with chiropractic interventions, spinal manipulation, dry needling, graston, focused muscle work, lifestyle changes, postural changes, exercises and functional medicine (treating imbalances in metabolic system).

Primary headache disorders account for over 95% of all cases of head pain, and this is why it is so important to adopt a holistic approach to their treatment: by modifying the patient’s major lifestyle components, it is possible to avoid taking conventional painkillers (which often do more harm than good in the long run) in most of the cases, or at least switch them for herbal complexes. Modern studies indicate that a multidisciplinary approach to headache treatment can decrease tension-type headaches by whole 50%, as well as their intensity by 75%.

Secondary headache disorders are much less common than primary ones, and yet in some cases they point at serious (often life-threatening) conditions such as intracranial tumors or infections of the nervous system. If so, immediate and drastic measures might be required, but, again, secondary headache disorders account for less than 5% of all cases and usually are easily recognized by most doctors. As a rule, if a family doctor is visited by a patient complaining only of head pain without any other related or concurrent symptoms, most likely this is a case of primary headache.

Other possible causes of secondary headache disorders include:

  •  Medication-overuse headache (about 5% of all cases of head pain), caused by excessive intake of anti-headache medications
  •  Sinusitis
  •  Ear and tooth infections
  •  Inflammatory processes
  •  Infections, including influenza and upper respiratory tract infections
  •  Excessive pressure from tight headwear, such as headbands and protective helmets

Contributing Factors to the Development of Head Pain

Stress is one of the most significant factors that contribute to the development of head pain, especially in recurrent cases (such as two consecutive stressful days or even longer streaks). Therefore, the quality and general vibe of your working environment could be one of the major reasons for your headaches, as confirmed by the fact that retirement is strongly linked to a reduction in pain frequency and intensity.

Sleep disorders and poor quality of sleep often contribute to the pathogenesis of head pain, and this is another modifiable lifestyle factor in the holistic treatment of this condition. Improving a patient’s night rest can almost instantly result in a drastic improvement of his pain symptoms.

Elevated blood pressure is another health factor that has been proven to be associated with head pain in general, as well as the transformation of migraine episodes into chronic forms of migraine. Therefore, the cardiovascular health of each patient complaining of headaches is another point of major interest in the functional treatment of this condition.

Alternatives to Conservative Care

Chiropractic encompasses a wide range of therapeutic approaches that were proved to be extremely effective for the treatment of head pain. For example, a study researching the effectiveness of spinal manipulation for tension-type headaches resulted in effects comparable to traditional first-line prescriptions and Nsaids. Similar studies report that chiropractic is often effective for those patients who had failed to receive relief for their headache from a variety of conservative specialists. Evidence-based guidelines indicate that chiropractic therapy is especially effective for cases of migraine and cervicogenic head pain (resulting from neck conditions).

Dry needling, another popular example of alternative medicine, has also been confirmed to provide significant relief for primary headaches, especially migraines and tension-type pains.

Similarly, herbal complexes that have been used in traditional Chinese healing doctrines were proven to be fairly effective against tension-type headaches, the most common form of this kind of pain. Taking into account that the same preparations are often extremely effective in treating arterial hypertension and chronic stress, this is a powerful and all-natural weapon against the patient’s condition.

Treatment of head pain and headaches needs a multidisciplinary approach to treatment including spinal manipulation, dry needling, graston, focused muscle work, lifestyle changes, postural changes, exercises and functional medicine (treating imbalances in metabolic system). This is all important for addressing the root of the problem and not putting a bandaid on the issue masking with some type of medication that can cause all sorts of other issues down the road.

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Ann Barter

Dr. Ann Barter & Dr. Jennifer Christian

Dr. Barter and Dr. Christian are passionate about
how Chiropractic combined with Functional Medicine can change lives.

Chat with them today or reserve an appointment at one of our offices in Denver and Longmont to find out how Chiropractic + Functional Medicine can change your life.