Understanding the Causes of Headaches

The main causes of headaches are usually poor hydration and poor diet, poor posture and stress. People suffering from frequent headaches should see a doctor and also have their spines checked to remove any interference with the nervous system.

What are the different types of headaches people experience, and how do you describe the pain and symptoms experienced with each type?

Unfortunately, there’s many different types of headaches, right? You’ve got the tension headache, cluster headache, migraine, allergy or sinus headache; the list goes on. But in practice, the main three headaches that we see a lot of and treat are the tension headaches, the migraine, and then the sinus headache. Tension headaches are probably the most common headache we treat. The pain is usually a mild to moderate pain. A lot of people describe it as kind of like a tight band around their head. Pain is usually at the base of the skull, you get some muscle pain, neck pain, and you get a headache, too. Obviously, they are pretty miserable.

The most severe type of headache is obviously the migraine, and obviously this takes up a headache in terms of its intensity. Migraines can be pretty severe, accompanied with nausea, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound. They’re really quite severe and acute, and they really knock people out.

Then the next ones are probably your sinus headache or your allergy kind of sinus headache, and that’s a pressure that really comes under the eyes and in the nose. I’d say they’re the three main types of headaches that we see and help a lot of people with in our office.

What are some of the most common causes of headaches?

Headaches can be caused from a variety of reasons, and general information out there is, are you hydrated? A lot of headaches are caused from poor hydration. Then there’s also some good research on, essentially your diet, what’s going into your diet. So, is it full of artificial additives, simple sugars, processed foods, or foods high in salt, MSG, etc?

But the biggest one that we see that causes headaches is essentially a headache is a consequence of your posture. Posture is the window to your health, and when you’re in a chronic state of poor posture, then over time it breaks us down, and quite commonly we see a lot of the headaches, both the tension headaches and the migraines, caused from poor posture.

Can you get headaches from taking too much over-the-counter pain relief medication?

Honestly, that’d be a really tough one for myself to answer as a chiropractor, because obviously that’s kind of not really within our field of expertise, but over-the-counter meds are there for a time and a place, right? But usually they’re for an acute episode, so if you’re going to use them, use them for a short amount of time in a short window. Obviously, they don’t need to be chronically used, so repetitively over a long period of time.

I couldn’t point my finger or put my finger on, if you took too many of X, it would give you a headache, but the research is black and white. If you’re taking those over-the-counter medications, those NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, you are going to have side effects. Side effects are going to be GI inflammation, renal inflammation, you get a lot of reflux, ulcers. They essentially break the body down from the inside. So, if you’re using those to help with your headache, you should only be using them sparingly.

How does stress from work or personal issues cause headaches?

Yeah, stress is a silent killer. There are many different forms of stress. So, you’ve got stress in forms of impacts, like a significant car accident or a slip or a fall. Then you’ve got repetitive stresses. So, you know, corporate America, people who essentially have to sit for a living, 40-50 hours a week. Then you’ve also got environmental stress, so are you getting married, are you going through a divorce, or quite commonly, work deadlines.

But stress affects us in a myriad of ways, essentially. Obviously, each type of stress is going to have a different effect. For example, if you’re in a car accident, the velocity of the accident is going to shift your spine out of alignment. It’s going to damage the soft tissue. It’s going to create mass amounts of what we call subluxation of joints that shift out of alignment, and when they do that, they create stress and tension on the nervous system. Headaches are quite common post car accident.

The repetitive stress is going to break us down over time, right? We sit for a living, we’re built to be upright and to be moving. Then when we’re strapped to our desk 50 hours a week, everything in front of us, it just pulls us forwards and out of alignment. Over time, that changes the shape of our spine, it breaks down our soft tissue, and when we have postural shifts and weak tissue supporting the spine, headaches are quite common.

Then you’ve got your environmental stresses, work stresses, relationship stresses, and they have a real effect on hormone function. When we’re in a chronically stressed state, our cortisol levels are increased. Cortisol is needed in certain areas, but when it’s chronically elevated, it blocks hormone reception and it kind of just throws us off, particularly absorbing things like blood sugar, et cetera. So that’s when you can get those headaches that spike in around meal time or during a stressful event.

So, stress is something that we really need to take seriously. We need to be able to pinpoint and indicate the type of stress that’s causing the headache, and obviously from there we can address it through lifestyle changes or obviously specific treatment within the office.

At what point should someone experiencing frequent headaches see a doctor for help?

Headaches, for me, is something that we really shouldn’t mess around with. So, if you’re having a headache, it’s something that you should get evaluated, particularly if you’re having several headaches throughout the month or several headaches throughout the year, because headache’s more of a neurological issue. Those top two bones of your neck, those nerve roots go back into your brain, and that area there is the most neurological dense area off your spine. There is more nervous system activity in the spine there than anywhere else.

So, when you have your headaches, it’s an issue with your upper cervical spine more often than not, and that’s something that you should really get checked out, because again, that nervous system function is critical. But again, when you’re in stress in that upper cervical area, it can create issues throughout the body. You’re in that chronic sympathetic tone, that fight or flight, we’re designed to be in that parasympathetic tone, which is where we rest and digest.

So, if you’re having a headache repetitively throughout the month or the year, I’d make the effort, just go and get it checked out, see what’s going on with your spine. Obviously, based on what’s found, get it addressed sooner rather than later because headaches can develop and get worse over time, and no one likes living with a headache.

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If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Luke Stringer visit www.southloopchiropractor.com or call (312) 987-4878 to schedule an appointment.

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