When a really bad headache strikes, it’s easy to simply say “I’m having a migraine.” However, the truth is that there are many types and causes of head pain (migraines being one of them), so it’s important to understand which type you’re really experiencing so that you can manage your symptoms effectively and find needed relief.
Understanding the Most Common Migraine & Headache Types
This type of headache actually originates in the neck. When you break down the word cervicogenic, that’s exactly what it means: cervico = pertaining to the neck and genic = generated from. The upper neck has many tissue types that can generate pain that causes headaches, including the joints between bones, discs, soft tissues, nerve roots, and vertebral arteries. Cervicogenic headaches are, more often than not, accompanied by neck pain. Neck range of motion may be reduced, and the headache made worse by neck movement.
Cluster headaches can cause severe, one-sided pain in the head, around the eye, at your temple, and towards the back of the head. They usually present with irritated eyes, a runny nose, and drooping of the eyelid. Appropriately named, cluster headaches occur with a frequency between 8 episodes daily to every other day. Headache clusters can come in cycles and are separated by periods of remission.
Migraine without aura (common migraine)
A migraine is a headache disorder that causes severe, pulsating pain usually on one side of the head. Migraine episodes are commonly associated with nausea, vomiting, and heightened sensitivity to sound, light, and smell. The headache phase can last anywhere from 4 hours to 3 days. The common migraine presents without any visual disturbances known as an aura.
Migraine with aura (complicated migraine)
For approximately 25% of migraine sufferers, their episodes include the aura phase. An aura is a combination of visual and sensory changes that can range from numbness and tingling in the extremities to seeing zigzags, spots, or wavy lines. For those who experience an aura, it will typically last between 10 and 30 minutes and acts as a warning sign that the headache phase is imminent.
A person suffering from migraines 15 or more days per month has chronic migraine. There might be quite a variety of symptoms – some days a person may experience a more severe migraine episode and other days the pain might be more tolerable.
Migraines disproportionately affect women, and some women are prone to experience migraines either in the few days before or after the menstrual cycle begins.
The most common headache type around the world, a tension-type headache is sometimes referred to as a “hat band” headache because it feels as if you’re wearing a hat that fits too tightly and it’s squeezing your head. Tension headaches can also cause neck and shoulder pain. Though tension headaches can drag on for days, the pain is usually moderate compared with the pain of a migraine.
Medication overuse headache
An unfortunate byproduct of having chronic migraines or headaches and using pain-relieving medications more than 10 days per month is the risk of developing medication overuse headaches. This can occur with both prescription and over-the-counter medications that are used to treat migraine and headache pain.
Natural Care for Migraines and Other Headache Types
Migraines and headaches occur for a variety of reasons. As you’ve read above, they can have neurological, vascular, muscular, and hormonal influences, to name a few. There is one system of the body that governs the function of all the others, and that’s the central nervous system (CNS). When problems arise in the CNS, they can be the underlying factor in the development of migraines and headaches.
The upper neck, oftentimes referred to as the upper cervical spine, houses a critical part of the CNS as it relates to migraines and headaches. The upper cervical spine has two unique vertebrae, the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) that are different from the rest of the spine because they have some different functions:
- The reason your head is able to move around so freely in all directions is largely due to the way that the atlas and axis are shaped. The upper cervical spine enjoys the largest range of movement of the entire spine.
- The atlas and axis must support the weight of the head atop them. Since head position has such a big influence on your body’s ability to maintain a sense of balance, these vertebrae and the muscles that attach to them are constantly working to correct your head posture whether you’re aware of it or not.
- C1 and C2 protect the brainstem. The brainstem is the link between the brain above inside the skull and the spinal cord that extends the length of the spinal column. Brainstem irritation caused by an upper cervical misalignment can hinder normal neurological function as well as normal blood and cerebrospinal fluid flow.
If the upper neck has shifted out of alignment due to an accident or injury (whiplash, concussion, sports injury, work-related injury), or from wear and tear that naturally occurs over time, it can be the root cause that is triggering your migraine or headache episodes. Correcting this area is the focus of upper cervical chiropractors. Using a thorough analysis, the extent of the upper cervical misalignment is measured and an adjustment is customized for each patient. This high degree of personalized care allows for upper cervical care to be precise, extremely gentle, and yield long-lasting results. Many migraine and headache patients under care report a reduction in the severity and/or frequency of their episodes and a return to a better overall quality of life. To learn more about how upper cervical chiropractic can get you back on track, locate a provider in your community and schedule a consultation.
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