As health care professionals, we see many patients who suffer from headaches in our offices. However, many of them are not aware that headaches can be attributed to problems in the neck area. This vignette focuses on headaches, known as cephalalgia in medical terms. It is a condition that affects many people around the world. In fact, approximately 50% of the population suffers from headaches over the course of a year and this number increases to more than 90% over a lifetime. An interesting fact that is not known by many is that the brain does not have a sensitive receptor for pain, so pain will come from the tissues around the brain (meninges), the muscles in the area and the blood vessels in your face, scalp, and neck.

The causes of headaches are as varied and numerous as the number of different types of headaches. These are described in several criteria that can distinguish them from each other in the "International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition" which is a reference for many health professionals.

We will therefore discuss the three main types of headaches encountered and treated by chiropractors in clinics. We will try to understand how to distinguish them and what are their causes. With the world situation in the last two years that can generate a higher level of stress, some of you may have noticed an increase in the frequency, intensity, and duration of your headache episodes. So, we'll conclude our capsule with a little exercise routine you can do at home that should help relieve your episodes! Of course, it is always recommended to have an evaluation and prescription of these exercises by your health care professional before undertaking them.

1st type - Tension headaches

This is the most common type of headache in adults. The pain is often described as a tightness that feels like your head is in a vise. It often occurs on both sides of the head in the forehead area, on the back of the head and neck, or in both areas simultaneously. The pain is usually mild to moderate in intensity. It usually lasts from 30 minutes to several days on occasion. It is not accompanied by nausea or vomiting and is not aggravated by routine physical activity such as climbing stairs. Some patients also have sensitivity to sound or light, but rarely both. The causes of these headaches are very varied and the exact mechanism explaining them is not clearly established. However, certain factors such as stress, anxiety, fatigue, dehydration, and the accumulation of muscular tension in the neck region are known to be associated with the onset of this type of headache.

2nd type - Cervicogenic headaches

These are part of the so-called secondary headaches (headache secondary to another disorder). The pain is usually on one side in the back of the head, on the side and sometimes even around the eye. The pain is moderate to severe in intensity and usually begins in the neck area. It usually lasts a few hours to a few days. Neck movements, prolonged posture, and pressure around the first three vertebrae of the neck seem to trigger the pain. There are usually no other symptoms associated with this type of headache. The cause of these headaches is referred pain (pain that originates elsewhere) that comes from irritation of the structures in the neck that are innervated by the nerves coming out of the first three vertebrae of the neck. This includes the joints, discs between the vertebrae, ligaments, and muscles in the area.

3rd type - Migraines

There are several types of migraines, each with some different symptoms. These are often described as a throbbing or pulsating pain usually on one side of the head, accompanied by nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to sound and light. Episodes usually last from 4 to 72 hours and the pain can be severe enough to interfere with daily activities. For some, a warning symptom called an aura occurs before or with the headache. An aura may include visual changes such as flashes of light or even numbness in the face. There are many triggers for migraines. Some of them include stress, hormonal changes, excess alcohol or coffee, fatigue, and others.

To conclude, here are three exercises that should help you with your headaches.

1.    Suboccipital massage (20 seconds of yes and 20 seconds of no)

2.    Trapezius massage (20 seconds per side)

3.    Cervical retraction 10 repetitions

4.    Repeat the routine 2-3 times a day

The purpose of this little exercise routine is to try and relax some of the tension points within the musculature of the head/neck area and give movement to the neck joints to help relieve your headaches in addition to your manual treatments offered by your chiropractor.

We hope this has been helpful to you and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Dr. Stefan Ionescu, chiropractor D.C.