Are Headaches Normal?
Many people believe that it is okay to have headaches. Some even think that headaches are normal. This can be a dangerous misconception as headaches can be an important warning sign that something else may be wrong.
“Normal” headaches are typically associated with a specific incident or stressful event. If a headache goes away quickly after rest or sleep, it is a normal response. Headaches that occur more than once per month or last longer than 3-4 hours are not normal.
According to a study by the Mayo Clinic, headaches are the 9th most common reason patients see a doctor. The World Health Organization estimates that 50-75% of adults have had a headache in the last year and 30% or more have reported a migraine. In the Global Burden of Disease Study, updated in 2013, headache disorders were the 3rd highest cause of years lost due to disability.
Side effects of Medication:
Many people who regularly have headaches reach for medication to relieve the pain. They often develop dependencies on these medications, which have harmful side effects over time such as stomach, liver or kidney problems.
Relying upon pain numbing medications on a regular basis for headaches is not justified if you know about the latest research and alternative treatments that are available to you. Over 70% of patients who use alternative therapies never informed their medical providers that they used such therapies?
Eisenberg, DM. Ann Intern Med. 1997; 127:61- 69
Common Headache Types:
Common types of headaches include: Migraine, Tension Type, Cervicogenic. Contrary to popular belief, migraine is not just a bad headache. It’s an extremely incapacitating collection of neurological symptoms that usually includes a severe throbbing recurring pain on one side of the head. It’s often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
Migraine Headaches statistics show:
- Female:Male – 75:25
- Lateralization – 60% unilateral with sideshift
- Location – frontal, periorbital, temporal
- Frequency – 1-4 per month
- Severity – moderate/severe
- Duration – 4-72 hours
- Triggers – multiple, neck movement not typical
- Associated Symptoms – nausea, vomiting, visual changes, phonophobia, photophobia
- Pain Character – throbbing, pulsating
What Happens During a Migraine?
Efficacy of spinal manipulation for a migraine:
- 22% of the participants reported more than a 90% reduction of their migraines.
- 50% more participants reported significant improvement in the intensity of the migraines.
Tuchin PJ. A randomized control trial of chiropractic manipulative therapy for migraine. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2000;23:91-95
- After one week of treatment 75% of the subjects reported complete relief of headache.
- They also noted a significant increase in cervical ROM and a reduction of dizziness.
Stodolny J. Manual Therapy in the treatment of patients with cervical manipulations for migraine. Aust NZ J Med 1989;4:49-51
“Spinal manipulation was as effective as a well established and efficacious treatment (amitriptyline), and on the basis of a benign side effects profile, it should be considered a treatment option for patients with frequent migraine headaches.”
Nelson CF. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1998:2:511-9
Tension-type headaches are the most common form of headache, occurring in about three-quarters of the general population. Tension-type headache is usually described as a pain that feels like a tight band round your head or a weight on top of it. Your neck or shoulder muscles may also hurt along with the headache.
Tension-type headache statistics show:
- Female:Male – 60:40
- Lateralization – diffuse bilateral
- Location – diffuse
- Frequency – 1-30 per month
- Severity – mild/moderate
- Duration – days to weeks
- Pain Character – dull
- Triggers – multiple, neck movement not typical
- Associated Symptoms – occasionally decreased appetite, phonophobia or photophobia
The Efficacy of Spinal Manipulation for Tension-Type Headaches
Spinal manipulation is an effective treatment for Tension Headaches.
Amitriptyline was slightly more effective in reducing pain a the end of the treatment period but was associated with more side effects.
- Four weeks after the cessation of treatment, the patients who received SMT experienced a sustained therapeutic benefit in all major outcomes in contrast to patients that received amitriptyline, who reverted to baseline values.
- The sustained therapeutic benefit with SMT seemed to result in a decreased need for over the counter medication.
- Boline PD. Spinalmanipulation vs. amitriptyline for thetreatment of chronic tension type headaches. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1995;18(3):148-54
- Almost without exception, chiropractic manipulation of the neck was found to be superior in terms of reducing tension headache frequency, intensity, and improving functional status of patients when compared to other standard medical treatments.
Hurwitz. Spine 1996;21:1746-1760
A cervicogenic headache starts in the cervical spine—your neck. Sometimes these headaches mimic migraine headache symptoms. Initially, pain may begin intermittently, spread to one side of the head, and become almost continuous. Pain can be exacerbated by neck movement or a particular neck position (e.g., eyes focused on a computer monitor).
- Female:Male – 50:50
- Lateralization – unilateral without sideshift
- Location – occipital to frontoparietal and orbital
- Frequency – chronic, episodic
- Severity – chronic, episodic
- Duration – 1 hour to weeks
- Pain Character – non-throbbing, and non-lancinating pain, usually starts in neck
- Triggers – neck movement and posture, limited ROM, pressure over C0-C3
- Associated Symptoms – usually absent or similar to migraine but milder, decreased ROM
110 participants with cervicogenic headache were randomized to receive both cervical and thoracic spinal manipulation, or combined mobilization and exercise. The findings indicated that manipulation was more effective at reducing headache intensity and disability. Additionally, the manipulation group experienced significantly reduced duration and frequency of headaches.
Dunning et al. (2016) BioMed Central Musculoskeletal Disorders
Evidence suggests that chiropractic care, including spinal manipulation, improves migraine and cervicogenic headaches.
Bryans et al. (2011) Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics
Spinal manipulation has been proven effective for many types of headaches and it does not involve medication to cover up the pain.
Chiropractors are well educated in this field and can also diagnose the condition to recommend the most effective treatment, which typically includes exercise and nutrition.
If you have headaches be sure to check with a health professional for a thorough evaluation.
The best approach is to not develop the problem in the first place.
Take preventive steps:
- Maintain proper body weight
- Exercise regularly
- Each nutritious food
- Reduce stress
- Practice healthy ergonomics
Maintain proper posture and spinal function