Hello, everyone! This is Dr. Bob Salamon with Lowcountry Chiropractic. It’s cooling off here in the Lowcountry and I do hope you all are staying warm! As we approach the holidays, there’s plenty to plan. Trips need to be scheduled, dinners need to be prepped, and presents need to be bought. It can be a lot and if you find yourself suffering from the occasional headache, you may ascribe its origin to your long to-do list. The truth is tension headaches can occur anytime we become stressed, do not receive enough sleep, or practice poor posture. In fact, two in three adults will suffer from the occasional tension headache, with 3% suffering them often enough to be diagnosed as chronic. Low and behold, women suffer from tension headaches more often than men. Most people pop a few ibuprofen and hope for the best. The thing about taking pain relievers is that they do not target the root cause of tension headaches. When consuming pain medication becomes the go-to, we can find ourselves caught in a perpetual loop. Today, I want to talk about how tension headaches occur and how you can relieve them naturally.
As previously mentioned, tension headaches are the most common type of headache adults experience. Many of my patients, when asked what’s the normal amount of headaches to experience in a week, answer three or four. In reality, the normal amount of headaches to experience in a week is zero. If you have kids or a stressful job, you might be wondering how that’s possibly the case. You might experience tension headaches daily and have just accepted that they’re a standard part of life. Well, I’m here to tell you they’re not. When living a healthy lifestyle, we should not be experiencing tension headaches with any amount of regularity. Likewise, we should never find ourselves dependent on over-the-counter medications just to make it through the day.
Tension headaches are characterized by a feeling akin to a tight band wrapped around the head. They can range from fairly mild, in which case you're still able to go about your day, to moderate pain, in which case you find yourself seeking immediate relief. If you experience throbbing pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of balance, or other symptoms, chances are you are not experiencing a tension headache and you should seek medical care from a professional. There are two types of tension headaches. The first is episodic tension-type headaches, which occur fewer than fifteen days a month and are deemed “infrequent.” Personally, fifteen headaches a month sounds pretty frequent to me! However, you must report fifteen or more days of headaches each month to classify as the second type, which is chronic tension-type headaches. Chronic tension headaches point to a significant imbalance within the body and might require in-depth examination by a medical professional to reach a satisfactory resolution. However, for those who suffer episodic tension headaches, lifestyle changes can have a huge impact on their quality of life.
What causes tension headaches within the body? From a physiological standpoint, most tension headaches are vascular in nature. This means these headaches can be attributed to the size of the capillaries in your brain, which are responsible for bringing blood flow (and thus oxygen) to and from the brain. Capillaries are equipped to expand, or dilate, and to constrict. When they expand, ample blood and oxygen are delivered to the brain. When they contract, the brain can be deprived of blood and oxygen. As an example, you know the feel you get when you’ve been upside down for too long? That’s because the blood rushing to your head has caused the capillaries in your brain to expand. Many people note feeling more “alive” after hanging upside down, but this is just because of the influx of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Hanging upside down too long can have the opposite effect, as vessels burst from the pressure of too much blood.
Since the brain is the master controller of every process within our bodies, proper blood flow to the brain is essential for good health and feeling our best. Tension headaches may indicate, among other things, a lack of adequate blood flow to the brain. The spinal nerves sitting at the top of the spine regulate the diameter of our brain’s capillaries. Therefore, if these nerves experience an interruption in their connection to their capillaries, said capillaries can either dilate or constrict. When dilated, these capillaries take up more space and could be considered inflammation within the brain. When constricted, these capillaries struggle to ferry the necessary blood to the brain and pressure builds within the capillary walls. Whether capillaries are dilated or constricted, both states can cause tension headaches.
Most headache medications are vasodilators, which means they seek to relieve headaches by blowing the capillaries wide open. However, this effect isn’t limited to the brain. Vasodilators come with a laundry list of side effects, including (but not limited to): rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations, edema, nausea, vomiting, excessive hair growth, joint pain, chest pain, and (if you can believe it) headaches. The reason for this is because both vasodilation and vasoconstriction can cause headaches and vasodilators only serve to reverse vasoconstriction.
What brings on a tension headache? Tension headaches can be triggered by a host of factors. You might develop a tension headache after staring at your desk computer for too long. You might experience pain in your neck after sleeping in an uncomfortable position and this pain triggers a tension headache. As well, those who suffer from insomnia are predisposed to developing tension headaches. Stress is a key factor in tension headaches, as cortisol can actually constrict blood vessels and raise blood pressure. If you haven’t eaten for several hours, you may develop a tension headache as a result of hunger, which causes your muscles to tighten and glucose levels to drop. When we speak about applying lifestyle changes to lessen the possibility of developing tension headaches, these are the factors which are due to change.
How do you manage tension headaches or even eradicate them entirely? Chiropractic care. That’s the simple-yet-effective answer. Given everything we’ve covered thus far about how tension headaches occur, chiropractic care stands as the most logical option for targeting the root cause of tension headaches. Why? In between each vertebrae, two nerves extend outward from the spinal cord towards their intended destinations. Nerves in your neck extend into the brain and are responsible for the function of the brain’s capillaries. If a vertebrae slips out of alignment, the bone can apply undue pressure to these nerves. The disc contained within the vertebrae can also herniate, resulting in similar circumstances. These compressed nerves then become irritated and struggle to transmit vital signals to and from the brain. From this point, capillaries within the brain, lacking direction, are free to contract and dilate without reason or cause.
Chiropractic care serves to align the vertebrae, relieve pressure on the nerves, and restore regulatory capabilities for those previously affected nerves. In my twenty-plus years as a chiropractor, I cannot tell you how many cases of chronic tension headaches I’ve treated. Individuals have visited my practice already having given up on ever living a headache-free life, either dependent on pain medication for relief or resigned to the daily pain. These patients have seen tremendous success through chiropractic care. Many are blown away by their results because they expected to live the rest of their days with near-constant headaches. The wonderful thing about chiropractic care is its attention to the root cause of ailments. If a subluxation is causing your headaches, no amount of OTC pain medication will solve the problem. The other wonderful thing about chiropractic care is that relief can be immediate. Tension headaches can start around the eyes and temples or from the back of the head. Depending on where these headaches begin, this may give some indication as to which vertebrae are out of alignment. Consider your chiropractor as you would a private detective. It’s our job to solve the mystery of what’s causing you pain.
If you’ve been suffering from tension headaches, unsure where to turn, it’s time to come in. Give us a call or visit our website to schedule an appointment. No matter how frequently or infrequently you experience tension headaches, I will work with you to eradicate them completely. Remember, the normal number of headaches to have a week is zero. And, if your tension headaches are caused by a conjunction of a subluxation and lifestyle factors, we can discuss how to implement habits which will help reduce their frequency. For example, if you’re more likely to experience tension headaches when you’ve gone six hours without eating, we might recommend timed “snack breaks.” Long story short, you’re not alone! You do not need to be dependent upon pain medication and your tension headaches are treatable. I hope this article helps. My name is Dr. Bob Salamon and I have your back covered! Until next time, thank you for reading!
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