Headaches – Just a Pain in the Neck?

3 Common Types of Headaches and what you can do About Them

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Important Public Service Announcement – Before we get into talking about some of the different types of headaches that you can attempt to self-treat, it’s really important that you are able to identify the ones that you can’t. If your headache is;

  1. Worse than any other headache you’ve ever experienced
  2. Changing quickly in either frequency, duration or character (for example you often get a slight, dull headache at the back of your head when sitting for too long, then over the course of a few weeks your headache is sharp, has moved to a different part of your head and is there all the time)
  3. Comes alongside any neurological symptoms (e.g. seizures, confusion, difficulty swallowing or speaking)
  4. Getting progressively worse

Please, please DON’T try to self-treat. Speak to your doctor immediately and let them know your symptoms

Ok now that’s out of the way, on to the good stuff. There are many types of headaches, not all of which will respond to a particular treatment so it’s important that we try to identify the type before launching into treatment. If any of the descriptions sound familiar though, the solutions are easy to try and results are often surprisingly quick.

Cluster Headaches

Clusters are really unpleasant. Often considered to be one of the more painful types of headache, they centre around one eye and the temple, have a sharp quality and as the name suggests, they come in clusters. Whilst a visit to your GP wouldn’t be a bad idea (there are medications that can help) there are some other interesting things you can try to improve your symptoms and even address the condition itself.

One of the really interesting things about these types of headaches is that they are often found in people with poor sleep patterns. The lack of or poor timing of melatonin production (hormone related to sleep) is normally found in cluster headache suffers. Two potential solutions to this are to take a melatonin supplement or food containing melatonin in the evening (cherries, almonds or turkey are supposed to be good) or alternatively you could try a 10 minute ice bath in the evening 1 hour before bed, which is supposedly a natural way to increase melatonin production. Turning off phones, televisions and computers an hour before sleep may also help.

Migraines

Occasionally misdiagnosed by people who should know better. They can be hereditary, and tend to affect women more often than men, migraines can be life limiting at worst and really annoying at best. If you get a few headaches a month, they are one sided and tend to throb or pulse at the front or side of your head you may be a migraine sufferer. Auras, which are like little migraine predictors (some sufferers get a strange taste in their mouth or see bright lights or swirly patterns) are also a common indicator of migraine as opposed to other headaches.

I’ll preface this by saying that it is definitely not a cure-all for everyone with migraine (I have had patients to whom I have given this advice and have had both good and bad outcomes) but it is definitely worth a try. There is really strong evidence that migraine sufferers have a reduced level of magnesium compared to a healthy control group. There could be loads of reasons why you’d be magnesium deficient, from dietary issues to a genetic inability to absorb it. In any case it could be a simple fix. Experiment with eating a magnesium rich diet (pulses, nuts, leafy greens) and taking a chelated magnesium supplement. If neither work for you, you may have difficulty absorbing magnesium through diet and another solution is to try epsom salt baths. Epsom salt is a special kind of salt which is high in magnesium and is easily absorbed through the skin when dissolved in hot water. If nothing else it’s an excuse to take more baths which can’t be bad, right?

Cervicogenic Headache

Accounts for about 20ish% of headaches (depending on which study you read). They normally hang out at the back of the head and neck, often come alongside neck pain and sustained positions such as sitting down or driving for long periods. If this is you then listen up – as physios we see lots of these, and whilst they are not easy to treat we often have great success with them. Here’s a couple of things to try in lovely video form. Comments and questions on facebook if you need any extra help with headaches!