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Oakland Spine News

The Most Common Type of Headache

At some point, everyone will have a headache, whether it’s from stress, lack of sleep, hormonal related or even self-induced after having way too much fun the night before! In fact, 9 out of 10 Americans suffer from headaches. But the most common form of headache is the tension-type headache.

Tension-type headaches (TTHA) are defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a diffuse, mild to moderate pain that’s often described as feeling like a tight band around your head.” Ironically, even though this is the most common form of headache, the causes of TTHA are not well understood. These are sometimes described as muscle contraction headaches but many experts no longer think muscle contractions are the cause. They now feel that “mixed signals” coming from nerve pathways to the brain are the cause and may be the result of “overactive pain receptors.”

Regardless of the cause, the triggers of tension headaches are well known and include stress, depression/anxiety, poor posture, faulty or awkward workstation set-ups, jaw clenching and many others. Risk factors for TTHA include being a woman (studies show that almost 90% of women experience tension headaches at some point in life) and being middle-aged (TTHA’s appear to peak in our 40s, though TTHA’s are not limited to any one age group). Complications associated with TTHA’s may include job productivity loss, family and social interaction disruption, and relationship strain. The diagnosis is typically made by excluding other dangerous causes of headaches and when all the test results return “normal,” the diagnosis of TTHA is made.

Treatment utilizing over-the-counter-medications are commonly used as long as side effects of stomach irritation and/or liver and kidney issues don’t arise. The use of heat and/or cold is often helpful as some prefer one over the other. Alternating between ice and heat is sometimes most effective. Controlling stress by trimming out less important duties or “…taking on less” can help. Yoga, meditation, biofeedback and relaxation therapy are also great! An “ergonomic” assessment of a workstation and how it “fits” the headache patient can also yield great results. Other highly effective therapies include acupuncture, massage therapy, behavior and/or cognitive therapy as well as chiropractic. Chiropractic is a good choice compared to standard medical care, especially when side effects to medications exist. This is because manipulation of the cervical spine addresses the cause of the headache and doesn’t just try to cover up the pain. In 2001, Duke University reported compelling evidence that spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those with headaches that originate in the neck with significantly fewer side effects and longer-lasting relief compared to commonly prescribed medication. Chiropractic treatment approaches can include spinal manipulation, trigger point therapy, mobilization techniques, exercise training, physical therapy modality use, dietary and supplementation education/advice, lifestyle coaching and ergonomic assessments.

Reprinted with permission from Think Teachers Magazine