When and When Not to Worry About Headaches…

Most people will experience some form of headache during their lifetime. The good news is that most headaches are related, at least in part, to the neck or cervical spine (a cervicogenic headache or CGH) and can be easily managed with chiropractic care. 

Although the exact mechanism of CGH is still under debate, there are two possible explanations that are backed by research.  The first includes irritation of the sensory nerves in the upper cervical region that communicate with the fifth cranial nerve (the trigeminal nerve) and its nucleus, which is located in the upper cervical region of the spine. This irritation results in referred pain that radiates into the frontal aspect of the head. The second possible mechanism involves irritation of the greater occipital nerve by connective tissue bridges between the spinal cord covering (the dura) and the muscles located at the base of the skull.

Chiropractic treatment regarding CGH includes a combination of spinal manipulation; soft tissue therapies, such as myofascial release; active release techniques of the tight suboccipital muscles; manual and/or home cervical traction; and posture correction.

Unfortunately, the origin or cause of the headache may not be so benign and uncomplicated.  Warning signs of a complicated type of headache include (but are not limited to) the following: a very intense, unusual headache that comes on suddenly; significant visual and/or auditory problems; and other neurological signs and symptoms such as balance disturbance, dizziness, weakness, paralysis, speech difficulties, mental confusion, and nausea or vomiting. Until proven otherwise, the following types of headaches should be considered as potentially dangerous: a headache that progressively worsens over 24 hours; a headache that follows head trauma; and headaches that wake one up from sleeping, and/or last greater than 48 hours.

Doctors of chiropractic care are trained to evaluate and treat patients with headaches, and guidelines recommend chiropractic as an initial form of care based on its efficacy and safety.

Author
Dr. James Sheehan Dr. James Sheehan is an expert in the treatment of neck and back pain.

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