A headache is a pain in the area of the head or upper neck region. It is not brain pain. The brain has no pain fibers, so it cannot sense pain.
The cause of most headaches is the structures and tissues that surround the brain. They also cover the brain or supply the brain.
Headaches have two major categories, primary and secondary
Primary headaches come from the structures of the neck. These structures are:
- The spine
- Surrounding muscles
- Blood vessels
- Blood chemistry around the brain
Types of Primary headaches
This common form of headache starts in the structures of the neck. It’s felt in the upper neck region, often spreading to one or both sides of the head. It can be behind the eyes. These types of headaches can last from hours to days at a time. Most often the cause of these headaches is loss of neck function. The loss of function is due to spinal joint dysfunction and nerve irritation. These types of headaches can come on slow if due to poor posture or physical stress. They can also come with injuries like whiplash or sometimes sleeping wrong.
They form from muscle tension. The neck muscles tighten or spasm, often due to poor posture. Sometimes the tension is due to the restricted movement of the vertebra. The muscles can tighten from eyestrain, emotional stress, depression, hypoglycemia, or alcohol. The head position often aggravates these headaches. Putting pressure on the base of the skull where the neck joins helps.
They are some of the most painful, disabling headaches. They can last anywhere from hours to days. They are often accompanied by other symptoms. Things like sensitivity to light and sound. Visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting. Tingling of the face, arm, or leg. Migraines oftentimes begin with some trigger. Triggers can be foods like cheese or alcohol. Triggers can also be chemicals and hormones.
Inflammation of the upper part of the neck can affect cranial nerves. Cranial nerves get their name by exiting through the skull and not the spine. The cranial nerves that can get involved in headaches are numbers 5, 7, 9, and 10. These nerves provided motor and sensory information. They spread to the face, throat, tongue, tonsils, the base of the skull, and upper neck. Of these nerves, #5 is most often involved. This is the trigeminal nerve. When involved its called trigeminal neuralgia or Tic Delarue.
These headaches come from a health condition somewhere in the body.
Some serious examples are high blood pressure, stroke, aneurysm, tumors, hematomas, and encephalitis. Such headaches need immediate medical attention.
Other secondary headaches are less threatening such as:
Eye strain headaches
Headaches for eye strain are mild and dull in nature. Often they trigger using a computer, long-distance driving, and reading.
Usually, the eyes feel tired and the headaches felt in the temples.
They can trigger due to lighting and not wearing prescription contacts and eyeglasses.
Menstrual and hormonal headaches
Changes in hormones like estrogen and progesterone can occur during the menstrual cycle. They can change when using hormonal contraceptives like birth control pills. They change with hormone treatments. These headaches get confused with migraines. This is due to symptoms related to hormonal imbalance. Symptoms like nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, and dizziness. Women can be aware of the cause of these headaches. That is because they re-occur around the same time each month related to their cycle.
Dehydration and caffeine headaches
Dehydration can come from not drinking enough water. But it can occur due to a lot of vomiting or diarrhea. This loss of water can cause headaches.
Reducing or stopping caffeine after daily use can cause temporary withdrawal symptoms. One of the most common being headaches.
There are cavities in our skull. They’re located above our eyes, cheekbones, bridge of the nose, and forehead. These cavities lighten the weight of the skull. They provide mucus and moisture to the nose. This protects the nose from pollutants, dust, dirt, bacteria, viruses, and fungus. When inflamed the sinuses can cause congestion. This increases pressure in the cavities causing headache symptoms. Sinus headaches worsen by the increased pressure on the head with bending forward. They are sometimes confused with tension and migraine headaches.
Overuse of certain drugs for pain relief for long periods of time can cause headaches. If you have chronic headaches and have been using Ibuprofen for a long period of time, this can occur. As the Ibuprofen you took for pain wears off a headache begins. This is because the body has become dependant on Ibuprofen. The headache is then made better with another dose of Ibuprofen. Here is an example. You wake in the morning with a headache because the Ibuprofen wore off during the night. You take another dosage and feel better, only to have the headache return later as the dosage wears off. You don’t have a headache problem. You have an Ibuprofen problem.
The TMJ or temporomandibular joint can become dysfunctional. When it does it causes TMD or Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction. These types of headaches get confused with other types because they are dull and aching. But the pain is also felt around and inside the ear, into the temple and the neck area. It is often made worse by talking or chewing. Sometimes the jaw will also click and there is difficulty opening the mouth wide.
The worst of both worlds
In some cases, a person can have more than one type of primary headache and they can overlap. You could have a tension headache that leads to a migraine. You might start with a headache related to the menstrual cycle. This triggers a cervicogenic headache caused by a work-related injury to the neck.
Chiropractic can be very helpful in many types of headaches. They are skilled in knowing the types of headaches and addressing much of the structural issues around them.