Headaches – A Pain in the Neck?

Headaches – A Pain in the Neck?
by Dr. Jason Plotsky

It has been estimated that approximately 4.5 million Canadians suffer from severe, recurring attacks of migraine and tension headaches. Migraine headaches are typically classified as one-sided, throbbing or pulsating, made worse by exertion and during an attack there is usually nausea/vomiting or light and sound sensitivity. Tension type headaches are typically less severe, usually involve both sides of the head and do not typically involve nausea and or sensitivity to light and sound. Women suffer from headaches more frequently than men, an estimated 3.1 million women per year. This has a huge effect not only on their overall health, but also the amount of time that is lost from work. Added up, this glorious country lost approximately 63.4 million days of work this year to migraine related attacks.

The most common form of treatment is medication: either prescribed or over the counter.  Canadians spent about 40 million dollars on these types of medications last year in search of relief. For some people these medications do provide relief, but the results are often only temporary. From a survey, 62% of women migraine sufferers consulted their family physician. Of these women, the average rate of dissatisfaction with regards to the ease of use, convenience, and effectiveness was 68%. These are staggering statistics!

So what are the other options out there? Is there a way to look at what’s actually causing a headache and look for a solution, rather than simply masking the associated symptom?  If the majority of people are not satisfied with medications, then what else can we do?

There have been a number of scientific studies in the last ten years comparing the effectiveness of chiropractic care and commonly prescribed medications. It was found that chiropractic was an effective treatment for tension headaches and there were fewer side effects and longer lasting relief with chiropractic care!

The reason for the good results is because a lot of headaches are cervicogenic in nature.  What this simply means is that the origin of the headache comes from a problem in the neck. A report released in 2001 from researchers at Duke University found that chiropractic adjustments resulted in almost immediate improvement for those headaches that originate in the neck (they also found significantly fewer side effects and longer-lasting relief than a commonly prescribed medication).

These problems can include lack of proper alignment of the bones of the neck, lack of proper movement of the joints in the neck, nerve irritation and muscle tension. The upper neck has more joint sensors than any other joint in the body. They sense things like movement and orientation, so when they are not moving or are not where they should be, they let your body know. Muscles around the joint sense that something is wrong and try to protect the joint by increasing their tone (feels like tightness or spasm). This can also be accompanied by nerve irritation in the upper neck. The nerves in the upper neck are responsible for supplying the sensory portion to different parts of the head. This is why some people can feel the pain wrap around the back of their head and directly into one eye, or to a particular part of the head. Chiropractors are trained to determine if a headache is coming from a problem in the neck. In other words, we are looking for the cause, not only to treat the symptom.

Another cause of headaches is stress to the temporomandibular joints (TMJ). This stress can be caused by grinding and clenching of the teeth at night. For some people they get tremendous relief when a guard is fitted by their dentist to reduce the amount of strain to the TMJ. The joints and muscles of the neck and jaw work closely in harmony so it is important to rule out problems with the neck when dealing with problems in the TMJ.  Stress reduction is also important for these people so they can reduce the amount of grinding and clenching at night that may be coming from an increased amount of daily stressors.

Due to the amount of time that a lot of people are sedentary, there is an increased amount of postural strain to the body and increased tension in the muscles of the upper back and neck. This is why it is so important to move around and change positions frequently if you are at a desk all day. People with postural strain will benefit from specific postural exercises and general strength training. Chiropractic and massage therapy are a great combination to regain proper alignment of the body and reduce the tension in the muscles.

Some headaches are metabolic in nature. This is where it is important to keep the body hydrated and to stay away from excess sugar and salt. Some people get headaches when they are exposed to certain environmental factors or specific foods. These people tend to respond very well to Naturopathic Medicine.

If you are a headache sufferer, or know someone who is, it is imperative to try to find the source of the problem. For a lot of people the source of the problem comes from abnormal alignment and movement of the joints in the neck, an increase in muscle tension and nerve irritation. Remember, a physical problem requires a physical solution.

Dr. Jason Plotsky
Dr. Jason Plotsky is co-founder of Nova Spinal Care Inc. The doctors at Nova Spinal Care utilize a gentle and precise procedure called NUCCA. This procedure focuses on correcting body imbalance and promoting optimal function of the spine and nervous system. To find out if NUCCA can help you, call (902) 444-6682 and book a consultation with one of the doctors. You can also find out more details about the clinic at www.novaspinalcare.ca