These are just some of the words people use to describe headaches. 50% of the general population have headaches during any given year, and more than 90% report a lifetime history of headache (International Association for the study of Pain, 2011).
Headaches can be classified into many different subgroups and each of these has its own causes and effects. These subgroups include migraines, tension headaches, cluster headaches, exertional headaches, hypnic headaches, medication-overuse headaches, sinus headaches, caffeine-related headaches, head injury headaches, menstrual headaches, and of course, hangover headaches.
Let's go a bit deeper into a couple of these subgroups, starting with migraines. Symptoms of a migraine will typically include an intense throbbing pain on just one side of the head. The person may experience increased sensitivity to light, sound, and smell. Nausea and vomiting are also common. Approximately 1/3 of people will experience an aura before the onset of a migraine. These are visual and sensory disturbances that can last between 5 and 60 minutes.
Cause of migraines are not fully understood yet but they are more common in females than males and they tend to run in families. Triggers for migraines are variable and they can occur several times a week or as infrequently as once per year.
There are different options available for treatment and some of these include medication, dietary supplements, meditation, and acupuncture. Migraine attacks can often be eased by resting in a quiet, dark place, placing a cold cloth on your forehead, or drinking water.
The most common type of headaches seen in physiotherapy offices is tension headaches. These are very common and are usually felt as dull, constant pain at the back, sides, or front of the head. Again, the triggers can vary but often will include stress, anxiety, lack of exercise, poor sleep, poor posture, or eye strain.
Good management options include stretching, heat, acupuncture, massage, dry needling, meditation, and limiting screen time on computers, phones, and television. Physiotherapists will also address contributing factors by discussing posture correction strategies, workplace ergonomic changes, and how exercise can be incorporated into day to day routines. The neck and upper back can have a very large impact on headaches and should also be assessed when seeking treatment.
Most types of headaches are preventable by understanding the background and behaviour of the headache. With this knowledge, a plan can be developed to manage the signs and symptoms and more importantly, prevent the occurrences.
~ Trevor, Physiotherapist