Headaches come in all shapes and sizes and nearly as many causes and symptoms as the people who experience them. But there are some commonalities to help generalize about causes and treatments.
Primary headaches, are not a symptom of another illness, they are caused by problems with pain-sensitive structures in the head. Chemical activity in the brain, the nerves or blood vessels surrounding the skull, or the muscles of the head and neck (or some combination of these factors) can contribute to primary headaches. Genetics can also play a role, making certain individuals more susceptible.
Some of the more common primary headaches are: cluster headaches, tension headaches, and migraines. Some primary headaches can be triggered by lifestyle factors including: alcohol, highly processed foods, changes in sleep patterns or lack of sleep, poor posture, skipped meals, and stress.
Cluster headaches, which occur in cyclical patterns or clusters, are one of the most painful types of headache. Most commonly, they will awaken the sufferer in the middle of the night with intense pain in or around one eye and one side of the head. Bouts of frequent attacks, known as cluster periods, can last from weeks to months, usually followed by remission periods when the headaches stop sometimes for months or even years at a time
A case study published in the February 9, 2011, issue of the scientific periodical, the Annals of Vertebral Subluxation Research documented the case of a woman who was suffering from cluster headaches and was helped with chiropractic.
In this case, a 47-year-old woman came to the chiropractor with a history of severe headaches over the past two years. The study notes that her headaches were right sided, behind her right eye, lasting fifteen to forty-five minutes and occurring five to eight times per day. According to this case study, she was originally misdiagnosed with migraine headaches. Standard medical treatment for migraine headaches was initiated which consisted of Imitrix, Maxalt, and oxygen. She got only some minor relief from her headaches with these treatments but after six weeks of non-retractable pain, she was later diagnosed with cluster headaches.
The woman in this case went to a chiropractor to see if she could be helped. A chiropractic examination was performed and a determination was made that vertebral subluxations were present. A course of specific chiropractic adjustments was initiated.
After the woman's first chiropractic adjustment, and in consultation with her medical physician, her medication was reduced. Additionally, she reported that she was sleeping better and felt more relaxed. She reported that after the initiation of her chiropractic care, she experienced a significant decrease in the severity of her headache episodes.
Within five months of beginning chiropractic care, the woman was able to discontinue the use of all medication and her headaches had resolved completely. The study authors wrote, "Currently, she reports being headache and drug free, and reports an increase in the quality of her life. She received a job promotion and is now attending college."
A tension headache is generally a generalized, mild to moderate pain that's often described as feeling like a tight band around the head. It is the most common type of headache, and yet its causes aren't well-understood. Managing a tension headache is often a balance between fostering healthy habits, finding effective nondrug treatments and using medications appropriately.
A migraine can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on just one side of the head. It's often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Migraine attacks can cause significant pain for hours to days and can be so severe that the pain is disabling. Warning symptoms known as aura may occur before or with the headache. These can include flashes of light, blind spots, or tingling on one side of the face or in your arm or leg.
The Chiropractic Journal of Australia published a case study in their June 2016 edition documenting the resolution of long term migraine headaches, tension headaches, and arm pain through chiropractic. In this study, an 89-year-old man presented himself to the chiropractor for care. The man was suffering from chronic daily tension-type headaches in the front of his head. His headaches had developed into incapacitating migraine headaches every 2 to 3 weeks over the past several years. The man's history included significant trauma, including multiple motor vehicle accidents and he was a World War II veteran who had suffered a blast injury during an artillery bombardment.
Based on the examination findings and x-rays, the diagnosis given was "...chronic daily tension-type headaches, episodic migraines without aura, musculoskeletal neck and arm pain, and concomitant vertebral subluxations." Chiropractic care was started using a specific adjusting protocol to address the subluxations found.
The study reports that after 12 weeks of care, the patient reported a complete cessation of all headaches and migraines, and also that his arm pain had completely subsided. He commented that he felt a lot more comfortable walking and he had more energy for daily activities. In a one-year follow up, the man reported no further headaches, neck pain, or arm pain. In their conclusion, the authors wrote, "This case study describes the presentation, chiropractic care provided, and outcomes of care of an 89-year-old male experiencing medically diagnosed chronic daily tension-type headaches, episodic migraines and co-existing musculoskeletal neck and arm pain. The patient reported a cessation of longstanding headaches and musculoskeletal complaints after 12 weeks of - chiropractic care."
The Chiropractic Journal of Australia published a case study in their June 2016 edition
Annals of Vertebral Subluxation Research, February 9, 2011 edition