Does your head feel like its Being squashed in a vice?
You may be experiencing tension headaches.
A 37-year-old office worker, mother of two
Has been dealing with tension headaches ever since high school. Her mother told her they were just ‘normal’ headaches, and that they would just go away after taking medication. They typically occur towards ‘that time’ of the month…although she also experienced them other times when stressed or tired.
Lately, rather than the usual 1 or two mild headaches a month, she is starting to experience them 3-4 times a week. Sometimes lasting several days. And she sis worried that something could be wrong.
They would typically feel like pressure on the sides of her head. Almost as if her head were held by a vice, or she was wearing a very tight headband. Occasionally she was sensitive to lights, and sounds, and occasional caused nausea when they get very bad.
Although the headache was usually manageable, or dull background noise, lately this. Hasn’t been the. case, and they have started to disrupt her life…
That is when she came to visit me, following a friends referral.
What is Tension Headache?
Headaches are one of the most common chronic pain conditions in the world. They can also be one of the most difficult conditions to diagnose and treat. The International Headache Society (IHS) has outlined (in headache-producing detail) the over 100 different types of headaches.
But what makes tension headache so special?
Well, it turns out that roughly 38% of the population suffer from Tension Type Headaches, making it the most common primary headache. Primary headaches are headaches that have a genetic component. So yes, you can blame your parents for them.
We also know that it has a close relationship with the the neck and spine, and your posture.
While there are therapies and treatment options for tension headache, there is certainly no ‘cure’. While its true that some individuals go years without having a tension headache, they can still come back under the right (or wrong?) circumstances.
For example, I used to have 3-4 tension headaches a week, but then went years without out…only to have them once again return (although not as frequent or. intense as before).
Tension Headache Progressively Worsen
One feature of tension headaches is that they can progressively worsen. What may of started as 1-2 mild headaches per month can become daily, and chronic in very short order.
It is the chronic headache that can be such a large burden on people. Slipping into medication dependence, and addiction is too common, and costly. on people, causing you to miss work, miss family events… miss life.
This is why identifying and appropriately treating those with tension headaches is important. To first treat the condition appropriately, but also to stop you from reaching the ‘tipping point’ and developing chronic tension headaches.
What Drives Tension Headaches?
Why do they become chronic?
I briefly outlined the mechanism behind headaches when discussing migraines. However to summarize here, those with primary headaches - such as Tension headaches. - have a reduced ability to block out potential ‘harmful’ sensations from the head, face, neck and body. When enough of these harmful sensations reach a tipping point, you feel the headache.
Your (central nervous system is) too sensitive
In those developing chronic tension headaches, this central machinery (your nervous system, specifically the trigeminal crevice nucleus) starts to become hyper sensitive. It becomes more sensitive to potential stressors and sensations,
making the headache more easily produced. Unfortunately, each headache can cause more sensitization, to the point where now almost any sensory input from your head, neck and face are now able to elicit the headache.
What You Need To Know
You don’t experience tension headaches because you are ‘tense’. You experience them because of the way your nervous system (your trigeminal system) its wired.
Neck and back ‘tension’ can cause. a barage of ‘bad’ sensory information to bombard this trigenimocervico nucleus. Once this barrage of sensory information reaches a threshold, the headache begins.
Said another way, once it reaches a ‘tipping point’ the headache happens.
What can increase this threshold?
There are many contributing factors when it comes to tension headache. Many things can influence this ‘threshold’.
If you are able to improve the above factors within your life, and get them under control, you will then be able to reduce the sensitivity. Said another way, you will increase your nervous systems threshold, and will be less s likely to experience tension headaches!
How To Best Manage Tension Headaches
One treatment option that can be very effective for managing tension headaches includes chiropractic care such as joint manipulation and soft tissue therapies. Theses modalities help reduce neck pain, tension, and help improve posture.
For many people getting this treatment alone is enough.
However, it is NOT enough for those with chronic tension headaches, or those heading towards developing chronic tension headaches.
All 7 factors must be addressed to optimize your chance of beating these headaches.
You must come to understand the nature of your headache…why do you get them, and what are the driving forces behind your head pain.
Without first understanding this, stress, anxiety and a self of loss of control can quickly, and easily take hold.
Re-organizing your central neurology. You need to take a proactive approach to reduce the sensitivity of your central neurology, improve its ability inhibit painful sensory information. In essence, you must become more pain resistant.
You can do this through various physical interventions (such as chiropractic, massage, etc) to reduce local tissue sensitivity. But you should also be including re-conditioning stretches and exercises to help bolster the affected tissues resiliently.
Taking a proactive approach with self paced exercises, stretches, stress management, improving dietary, sleeping and exercise.
Also ensuring that you aren’t taking medication incorrectly, or abusing certain medications.
If This Looks Hard...
That is because it is. Helping bring people back from having daily chronic tension headaches is not easy. It is possible! But it ain’t easy.
It Is much easier to stop someone from developing chronic headaches in the first place.
If you are dealing with chronic tension headaches, or want to make sure you don't develop them (!), put these strategies into practice. Your head (and the people you interact with) will thank you.
If you would like some help, let me know. I know how much headaches suck from personal experience.
Just call or text “Need help with my headaches” to 587-604-6462 and we will go from there.