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Are all headaches the same?

So what exactly is a headache?  Do we ever really ask that question?  Do we actually really care?  Just take an advil and it’ll pass right?  But what if that doesn’t take care of it?  What else could be causing your headache?  To understand what is causing the headache, we have to know a little bit about them.  First is understanding that there are many types of headaches that each have a unique trigger.  Let’s talk about a few of the most common headaches we see.



Tension Headache - This is a headache that is caused by tension in the head and neck.  This could potentially be caused by tight neck, jaw or facial muscles, stiff joints in the neck, and sometimes can be rooted in work or emotional stress.  Our first step with this type of headache is in the assessment.  Tense muscles, joint restrictions, and trigger points all can cause tension to build up and potentially cause a headache.  Using our McKenzie assessment and motion palpation scan, we are able to see what joints and tissues aren’t moving as well as they need to, then using chiropractic adjustments we improve the motion of the joints, and with soft tissue therapies we reduce muscle tension which helps release the tension on the scalp.


Migraine - The exact origin of a migraine is often idiopathic, which essentially means unknown origin.  These headaches can be influenced by stress, vascular conditions, high blood pressure, and even hormone imbalance and menstrual cycle.

  Common presentations of a migraine include unilateral head throbbing, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, visual aura, or visual distortion.  Our first step with treating a migraine is with, you guessed it, an assessment.  This includes discussing what triggers the migraine, whether that be diet, stress, exertion, or other triggers.  This will tell us if it is a true migraine or if this is closer to a tension headache.  Treatment then will consist of managing the triggers.  Acupuncture is a great treatment for migraines.  In eastern philosophy migraines can occur from energy rising within the body towards the head.  Acupuncture will help balance that energy and gently guide it back down.


Sinus - Headaches can often occur during illness like upper respiratory infection or during allergy when the sinuses become congested.  This can cause a feeling of the head and face feeling very full or have a deep pain around your cheekbones, forehead, or bridge of the nose.  Here as well we are going to do an assessment to determine if this is indeed coming from the sinuses.  We treat this condition with acupuncture to help strengthen the immune response, by which helping the body clear the congestion.  Our office also has access to a modality called LET (Lymphatic Enhancement Technology), which uses an electrostatic current to break up congestion within the lymphatic system, by doing this the system is able to drain the congestion.


So these are some of the common types of headaches.  The problem is, some sources claim there are around 150 to 200 different types of headaches.  So how can we be so sure which type you may have?  Or how does that affect how to treat that headache?  Quite simply like I stated with each type, we perform an assessment.  Each assessment is going to have a subjective and objective component which both give us the information we need to proceed with treatment.  In the Subjective portion, that is where the patient gives us their history with the headaches.  Here are some of the questions we may ask about the patient headaches.  How long have you been experiencing these headaches?  How frequently are you experiencing them? What does the pain feels like? Is it on one side of the head or both sides? Do they occur in the morning or the evening? Are they affected by light? Are they affected by food or drink?  Do they occur at a specific time of your menstrual cycle?  Have you had any vision changes?  Do you have difficulty speaking or swallowing?  Is this a familiar headache or is it unlike any you’ve had before?  These are some examples of what questions we may ask, each one being very important to finding the root cause of the headache.


The objective portion is where do our physical exam to find the root cause.  This may include neurologic testing, orthopedic testing, and in some cases also a cranial nerve exam and blood pressure.  We then perform our McKenzie assessment to find if a directional preference helps reduce the intensity of the headache.  If the headache is irritated by certain movements, then it may be relieved by other movements.  We also perform a motion palpation scan to assess how the joints around the area are moving, if they are restricted in movement then we will return later to adjust these restricted areas.


Once we obtain all the information we need, then we diagnose what headache you have and we begin with treatment.


Do you experience frequent headaches that you can’t quite seem to figure out?  Come in to get an assessment and get to the root of your headache!








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