Headaches – symptoms, causes and treatment tips

Do you often get symptoms of a bad headache? Find out how to cure it fast and relieve headaches for the long term. 

Headaches involve a lot of things – pains that happen in any part of the head including the upper neck. These pains can be on both sides of the head or they can be in a certain solitary part or location. Headaches can radiate across the head from a single location. They can be throbbing, dull or sharp. They can appear suddenly or gradually increasing and can last for a very short time or for several days.

Based on the source of the pain, there are three major categories of headaches according to the International Headache Society (IHS):

  • Primary Headaches
  • Secondary Headaches
  • Cranial Neuralgias, Facial Pain and other headaches

Primary headaches are stand-alone sickness that are caused by over activity of or problems with pain-sensitive structures in the head and is not a symptom of an underlying disease. There are some factors that play a role in primary headaches like the muscles of the head and the neck, chemical activity in the brain or the blood vessels outside the skull and even genes. Headaches may be caused by any one or a combination of these factors and may affect the quality of life. Examples of primary headaches are:

  • Cluster headaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • Tension

In some cases, primary headaches can also be triggered by lifestyle factors. Examples of these factors are but not limited to:

  • Alcohol
  • Processed Foods
  • Poor posture
  • Skipped Meals
  • Stress

Secondary headaches are caused by the activation of pain-sensitive nerves in the head that are symptoms of a disease. Varying in severity, any number and combination of conditions can cause secondary headaches. According to the Mayo Clinic, some examples of these conditions are:

  • Acute sinusitis
  • Blood clot within the brain
  • Concussion
  • Dehydration
  • Ear infection
  • Glaucoma
  • Hangovers

Cranial neuralgia is the inflammation of either of the 12 nerves that supply the motor and sensation function of the head and neck. The most commonly recognized example is intense facial pain caused by caused by the cranial nerve V.

Tension headaches are the most frequently occurring type of headache yet their cause can be complicated but multiple physical and lifestyle factors. The most likely cause is when the muscles covering the skull are stressed and they become inflamed, can go into spasm and will contract which causes pain. Common areas for this occurrence are the base of the skull, the temples and the forehead. These headaches are triggered by physical or emotional stress, prolonged manual labour, excessive sitting at a desk or usage of computers and concentrating. These stressors can cause the muscles surrounding the skull to clench the teeth and go into spasm.

Symptoms of tension headaches

  • Intense pressure at the temples or over the eyebrows
  • Pain that affects both sides of the head
  • Pain is not associated to nausea, sensitivity to light and sound or aura
  • Pain is infrequent and without a pattern
  • People can still function normally despite the pain.
  • Tightness or pressure usually begins at the back of the head and upper neck

When to seek medical attention

A minor headache can be relieved by an over the counter pain reliever, food, water or coffee since they are just little nuisances. However, when severe or unusual headaches occur, these can mean a tumor, a blood clot or a stroke and immediate medical attention is needed. Some warning signs that indicate prompt medical care is needed include:

  • Headaches that first developed after the age 50
  • Major pattern change of headaches
  • Unusually severe headache – the worst headache ever experienced
  • Pain the is triggered or increases with movement or coughing
  • Pain the is steadily worsening
  • Pain that affects personality or mental function
  • Headaches with fever, stiff neck, confusion or neurological symptoms
  • Headaches after a blow to the head
  • Headaches that hinder normal lifestyle
  • Abrupt headaches

Professional Treatments and Home Remedies

Headaches affect so many people and can hinder daily productivity. However, there are several things that can be tried in order to treat your headache.

  • Osteopathy – When the joints get stiff or the muscles lose flexibility osteopathy can be used to improve the range of movement and fluidity of movement, reducing the tension in the muscles and improving blood flow too and from the head and neck.
  • Acupuncture – Thin needles are inserted into the skin to realign the flow of energy in the body. Acupuncture can help prevent acute migraines and can help people with episodic or chronic tension headaches.
  • Massage – Massage is great for temporary relief. Rubbing the temples or getting a neck, back, head or shoulder massage can make you feel better. Having frequent massage sessions can help lessen frequent migraines and can aid in better sleep.
  • Stretching – There are stretches that relieve headaches by releasing muscle tension that contributes to the pain. The following are examples: Neck range of motion (chin upward, forward and towards each shoulder); Shoulder shrugs (shrug up, down, up and forward, up and backward); neck isometrics ( press palm into forehead and hold, press hand on each side of the head).
  • Aerobics – Regular aerobic exercise can actually prevent headaches such as brisk walking, cycling and swimming. Aerobic exercises are especially helpful to people who suffer from migraine by reducing the number of attacks.
  • Meditation – Meditation is used to focus the attention and quiet the mind from distractions like chronic pain. Spiritual meditation helps reduce frequency of headaches and can improve pain tolerance.
  • Yoga & Pilates – Yoga and Pilates combine breathing with physical posture and meditation to relax the mind and body and to align with the spirit. Yoga can lessen frequent headaches and pain and anxiety.
  • Relaxation Exercises – Listening to relaxing music, doing deep breathing or using mental imagery can aid in unwinding and headaches.
  • Heat and cold – To ease tightness of the neck, apply a heat pack (bought in most health shops or Boots) at the base of the neck; for pulsating or throbbing headaches, apply an ice pack to the temples.
  • Avoiding Nitrates and Nitrites – These are headache inducing substances found in processed meat, monosodium glutamate (MSG), caffeine, alcohol, aspartame, tyramine, phenyl ethylamine. It is wise to always check the content label of products.

If headaches consistently persist, it may be worth investing in some osteopathy to help soothe the symptoms. Get in tocuh today via email to get some advice on how ostepathy could help you.

Get in touch with our team if you have any questions or would like to know how podiatry and osteopathy may help with your headaches: