What are safe ways of treating painful headaches without dangerous drugs? How Do You Know If A Headache Is Dangerous? Here Are Some Answers:
Patients with recurring headaches often fear that they are dying of something horrible. But the reality is that the dangerous types of headaches are very rare. But how do we know the difference?
When our office treats a patient with headache symptoms the first step is to go back in time and take a good medical history, followed by a good hands on physical examination.
The most common types of headache are not actually coming from the head, they come from the joints and muscles of the neck, upper back and jaw. Once we know the cause, and the patient is reassured that they are not dying, then the healing can begin.
We have a good success rate with helping most people with headaches because we find the actual headache trigger causing the pain. The process starts with the history of the headache.
The history tells us: when did the headaches first start? What were you doing at the time? People can suffer headaches at any age. So, did they start in childhood, or as an adult? Did they start gradually or after an injury? Did a severe headache start suddenly with no apparent cause like an accident? Hint: the sudden onset of severe headache may signify a serious problem and requires immediate medical attention.
We may ask what kind of pain is the headache and where is it felt? Does it feel like it is coming from somewhere in the neck for instance?
Here are some characteristics of common headaches:
- often described as achy, dull or throbbing pain
- might feel like pressure or pain over forehead or cheekbone or between the eyes
- pain causes nausea, pain on one side of head, is worse with loud noises or bright lights
- Some patients may experience odd smells, sounds, or sights before and during the headache attack.
- There may be visual changes without pain at all
Common headaches are often described as achy, dull or throbbing pain. Depending on their cause, here is where they may be felt:
- tension in shoulders and neck= pain from neck to back of head
- trigger points in neck muscles = pain in sides of head or over top of head.
- trigger points in trapezius muscles (upper shoulders)= pain on top of head.
- referral patterns for trigger points in front neck muscles= pain on top of head or from back of head to over eyes or over cheek bones.
- stuck neck joints= pain in back of head or behind ears.
- TMJ (jaw) problems or clenching= pain over temples.
- Sinus congestion or infection= pressure or dull heavy pain or even stabbing pain in forehead or over eye brows, over temples, over cheekbones or between eyes or any combination of these.
- Migraine= can be one side of head or both. Often causes nausea, sensitivity to light or sound and other scary sensations. Migraines sometimes cause visual changes without pain at all. These are called optical migraines. Some patients may experience odd smells, sounds, or sights before and during the migraine headache attack. Hint: if you have never had one of these before- see a neurologist to make sure it is just a migraine.
- Round shoulder/head forward posture = tightness from upper back to back of head leading to headaches in back of head as well as pain in upper back.
- Vision problems= over forehead or around eyes.
- Toxic headache from MSG, food sensitivity, alcohol, air pollution = all over head.
Non-Drug Headache Treatments
- Release tension from stuck spinal joints with chiropractic adjustments.
- Balance TMJ (jaw) problems with combinations of muscle balancing, cranial adjustments, and correcting structural imbalances (even a flat foot can cause TMJ problems- we can show you how that happens).
- Check with your dentist to see if a bite guard is needed when sleeping and that dental issues have been addressed.
- Exercises to correct postural imbalances.
- Massage or muscle work or trigger point therapy on muscles or trigger points found to cause the headache.
- Nutritional approaches to address common causes of migraines (85% of migraines are food sensitivity related or toxicity related).
- Release of cranial pressure points to relieve sinus tension and help them drain.
- Nasal washes to address sinus congestion or allergy symptoms or infection.
- Nutritional therapies to address seasonal allergies.
- Learning stress reduction exercises and techniques to address stress-related headaches.
- Have your vision checked and if needed, wear proper prescription glasses.
- Elimination diets, air filters etc for toxic headaches.
Things you can do for yourself to ease or avoid headaches
- Maintain proper posture and neck movements while performing your normal activities. This is known as good ergonomics.
- Do not hold your phone with your shoulder. Do not look down at your cell phone, hold it up in front of you.
- Avoid slouching.
- Avoid reading with your neck bent forward.
- Keep your computer monitor at eye level.
- Take frequent breaks from reading and working on the computer.
- Try a low-fat, high-complex carbohydrate diet of organic whole foods and and avoid foods that trigger your headaches. This can dramatically lower the frequency, intensity, and duration of migraine headaches.
Serious Headache Causes
- head injury,
- blood vessel problems
- high blood pressure
- side effects of some medications,
- infections in the head or sinuses or elsewhere in the body.
- Rare headache causes include tumors, aneurysms and other abnormal growths inside the skull, and toxic substances in the blood.
- Food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food flavor enhancer can cause serious nervous system problems in some people
You should call your doctor and/or seek emergency care if you experience these serious headache signs:
- You have a stiff neck and a fever along with your headache.
- Along with the headache, it is painful to bend your head to your chest.
- Your speech is slurred.
- You have vision changes and you don’t normally have migraines.
- You feel numbness or weakness in your arms or legs.
- Your headache lasts longer than 3 days.
- You recently injured your head and your headache will not go away.
- The headaches often occur in the morning.
- You have a sudden severe headache although you normally don’t have them.
- Your headache is not responding to medications, ice packs or your usual remedies.
Other signs of serious headache include:
- The worst headache you’ve ever had
- Worsening or more frequent headaches
- Headache that wakes you from sleep
- Personality changes along with headache
- Early morning vomiting with headache without alcohol or triggering foods the night before.
If you are suffering from one of the common forms of headache, we are here to help. If you need help figuring out the cause of your headache, we can help with that too. We have a number of gentle, non-drug treatments to offer that may lessen or end your suffering. Simply call us at 978-535-6155 for a convenient appointment.