Headaches, who doesn’t get them? They come in all shapes, sizes, and severity and always seem to pop up at the worst time. Despite their common nature, not much is understood about them because of the wide, wide variety of their causes. There are several different kinds of headache diagnoses out there depending on the circumstances, the structures involved, and the associated symptoms and even though many of them may feel the same to the patient, how these headaches are treated can differ greatly. Treating the wrong kind of headache can delay a patient’s progress and prolong their suffering.
A true classic headache is called an idiopathic headache. Idiopathic means that something came on randomly with no known cause. So an idiopathic headache is doctor talk for, “you have a headache and I don’t know why. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” By the way, if you are becoming reliant on over the counter drugs to get through daily headaches, check this blog post out to learn about the damage you may be doing. Usually, this diagnosis gets slapped on people when there isn’t an obvious cause like you have with post-traumatic headaches, post-concussive headaches, and menstrual headaches.
It’s been in my experience that most headaches aren’t idiopathic. Most headaches do indeed have a cause (and a way to fix them!) but over-scheduled clinicians just don’t take the time to find it so they call it “idiopathic”. Here are my top 5 overlooked causes of headaches…
The temporomandibular joint is a complex structure. Clenching your jaw in traffic or all day at work, grinding your teeth, and having an “off-bite” can cause these joints to get angry and refer pain into the head and neck that feels like a headache around the eyes and behind the ears. Many people don’t think of Chiropractors for their jaw but this joint and associated musculature can be worked on and even adjusted and rehabbed just like any other joint. Some chiropractors even specialize in conditions related to the jaw.
Neck structures that can cause a headache include both the muscles and joints. Sitting all day with your shoulders slumped and your head sticking forward over a book or computer puts tension in the ligaments, joints, and muscles which can create a cervicogenic (from the neck bones) or tension type (from the muscles) headache. These headaches usually start at the base of the skull and work their way around the sides of your head towards your eyes. These types of headaches are the kinds best suited for Chiropractic care which will include some stretching of tight muscles, adjustments to the neck and upper back, and exercises to strengthen your postural muscles.
When you don’t have enough water in you, two things can happen. One, the brain volume shrinks a little bit. Remember when I said the brain can’t feel pain? Well the things around it can. As the brain shrinks, it pulls on various structures causing pain. A dehydration headache usually settled deep behind the eyes. Being dehydrated also decreases your blood volume which lessens the oxygen flow to the brain. How much water should you drink? -Half your bodyweight (in ounces).
It’s difficult to explain the mechanism behind this without turning this into a biochemistry lecture (which also causes headaches) but magnesium is involved in many processes within the body and the brain. Low magnesium can lead to “overexcited” neurons in the brain. Low magnesium is usually the case with migraines with aura (the flashing lights and weird feelings you get before the migraine). Some say he required amount to stop a headache would be impractical for supplementation but I believe that daily adequate supplementation of magnesium works as a preventative. This is been shown to be true especially with menstrual headaches.
Headaches that come on around the same time of day or always when you get to work may be environmental in nature and can be the result of a combination of triggers. Maybe your desk chair isn’t fitted appropriately and your monitor settings are off. Perhaps the recirculated air is a little too dry or you’re sensitive to the fluorescent lighting. This can be one of the more challenging causes of headaches and require some good deductive reasoning (hey, my headache goes away when I open a window and turn the lights off) and a process of elimination.
As always, if you have any questions, comments, or would like to suggest a topic – drop a line. Like me on Facebook for regular health tips and updates. Until next time, eat well and move often.
In good health,
Dr. Lell – your family chiropractor in Portland, Oregon