Written by Dr Niki McGuinness (Chiropractor)
Under the ICHD-3 Classification of Headaches, there are over a thousand possible causes of headache. In practice however, I tend to see the three most common: tension type headache also know as TTH, migraine and less commonly, cervicogenic (coming from the neck).
Often we talk about outcome measurements in Chiropractic, generally in relation to headaches, we aim to reduce any of the following three components: 1) intensity of the headache, 2) frequency of the headache and finally 3) duration of the headache. This is how we know if we are seeing an improvement and we may only see one of the three or all three reduce. My rule of thumb however is if I don’t see a 50% reduction in 1 or more of these components in 3 treatments, it’s time to refer you to your GP for further co—management and investigation. Although headaches are usually benign and harmless, there is also the underlying concern of more sinister problems such as stroke. I cannot impress enough, that if you are experiencing headaches for the first time in your life, you MUST get a qualified health professional to assess you, who is experienced in treating headaches AND who is comfortable referring for medical management, if required. Otherwise, see you GP first and if they are happy it’s just musculo-skeletal, then you are free to seek a good physical therapist.
So now I have the ‘lecture’ done, how can I assist you to reduce your TTH, migraine or cervicogenic headache? Well there are lots of ideas out there, and there are certainly lots of evidence emerging in the medical and physical therapy aspect however there is limited research in home care management. So I am advising you based on my own clinical experience but also from my own experience as a migraine and headache sufferer for many years.
So, here are my top 5 tips for management of headaches at home, once you have been assessed for the underlying cause and it is deemed to be related to muscle tension or lack of motion in your neck (cervical spine).
Yes, I know this is easy to say but when we hold tension in our shoulders through stress, we cause them to tighten and become tense, this reduces motion in our joints resulting in further build up of joint and muscular tension and inflammation. Allowing ourselves some time to relax takes the burden of life away for a short period of time. I usually recommend 15 – 20 minutes a day of ‘you’ time whether that is reading a book, meditating or listening to music. You could try downloading a meditation app such as Calm, which talks you through a daily meditation to allow each muscle group to relax. I know some people don’t like this idea, but in the end if you suffer with tension headaches, then it may be worth it!
BUY A GOOD HEAT PACK
I usually recommend the lavender infused wheat packs that you can just heat up in the microwave. Moist heat is better and these little packs do it well. Otherwise you could try soaking a small hand towel in your shower and lay it on your shoulders and neck when having a shower, pouring extra warm water over the area for 5 minutes. Just remember to a make sure the heat pack/temperature is not too hot so it doesn’t burn your skin.
FIND A DAILY STRETCH
I don’t believe in giving 10 – 15 exercises a day for mobility, in the end people won’t keep up with it so I usually recommend 1 – 3 stretches and 3 strengthening exercises per day, so that you can put it into your daily routine. Usually I suggest neck stretches to be done in the shower as part of your morning routine and straight after you’ve encouraged blood flow with heat or warm water. Another love of mine is the foam roller and spikey ball. Using these to stretch out your thoracic area can sometimes ease your neck pain and headache.
Amazingly, many of my patients who come into the clinic suffering with headaches and neck pain don’t know how to breathe deeply. Breathing ineffectively influences oxygen supply, and without optimal levels of oxygen, small blood vessels in the brain can widen and may result in headaches. Although in saying this, it is just a theory. In practice however, I believe the lack of motion in the lower area of the thoracic cage, causes tightening in the area, resulting eventually with poor posture and inevitably neck pain and headaches, especially in people who sit all day long at computers. Deep breathing is relaxing and it has great health benefits too! If I write a physical rehab program for a patient, I will always start with deep, diaphragmatic breathing as the basis.
SEE A GOOD CHIROPRACTOR
Of course I’m going to say this – I am a Chiropractor! But, if all else fails, we are here to help.
From my own experience of headaches, I found the use of dry needling/ soft tissue release combined with activator methods really worked for me. In saying this, I see some patients with cervicogenic headaches who only really respond to manipulation. These are few and far between but I certainly see them. In the end, you just need someone who can restore motion in the locked up joints, release the tension in your muscles and then give you the education to manage your complaint at home and work through postural advise, exercises, stretches and home care management. This could be a Chiro, physio or Remedial Masseuse. On the other hand you could just come and see us at Trigg Chiropractic!
ICHD-3 Beta The International Classification of Headaches: www.ichd-3.org
Blahd,F and O’Connor M; ‘Headaches – Home Care‘ Emergency Medicine Specialist Medical Review
November 2015: http://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/tc/headaches-credits
Whiley, M: ‘ Breathe Away your Headaches’ . Easy Health Digest: http://easyhealthoptions.com/breathe-away-your-headaches/