Nearly everyone has a headache from time to time. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 47 percent of the world’s adult population has had a headache within the last year. It’s believed that chemical activity in your brain, nerves or blood vessels in your head, muscles in your head and neck—or some combination of these factors—play a role in creating the pain signals associated with headache.
Headaches can occur on one or both sides of the head, be isolated in a certain location, radiate across the head or have a vise-like quality. The pain associated with headache can be sharp, throbbing or dull. Headaches can appear gradually or suddenly, and last less than an hour or for several days. Chronic headaches include headache episodes that last for more than 15 days a month—and affect about 4 percent of the U.S. population, or 14 million people.
Headaches come in all shapes and sizes
The International Headache Society has established a comprehensive classification that includes more than 150 headache categories. “Primary” headaches are headaches that are actually conditions and not the symptom of an underlying condition. The most common types of primary headaches are tension headaches, migraines, cluster headaches and chronic daily headaches.
Tension headaches are generally caused by tight muscles in your shoulders, neck, scalp or jaw and are usually related to stress, depression, anxiety or holding your head in an abnormal position. Women are twice as likely to suffer from tension headaches than men. Migraine headaches feature moderate to severe pain that is throbbing, pounding or pulsing in nature and can involve vision changes, sensitivity to sound or light, nausea and loss of appetite. More than 90 percent of migraine sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine. It’s estimated that more than 157 million work and school days every year are lost to migraines.
Cluster headaches feature intensely sharp pain located behind one eye or in the eye region. They generally occur up to several times a day and may last anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months, then disappear completely for months or years. Chronic daily headaches are persistent and ongoing, occurring every day for at least three months. It is believed that chronic headaches may evolve from tension-type headaches or be started by neck injuries or tiredness.
Occipital neuralgia is a relatively rare type of primary headache that can occur when the occipital nerves—which run from the top of the spinal cord at the base of the neck up through the scalp—are inflamed or irritated. The pain associated with occipital neuralgia is sharp, jabbing and electric. Other symptoms include aching, burning or throbbing in the head, pain behind the eye, sensitivity to light and a tender scalp.
Identify the source of the pain
Providing your pain management specialist with your headache history is an important component of a headache evaluation, as are physical and neurological examinations. During your physical exam, your physician will look for signs and symptoms of an illness that could be causing your headaches. Neurological tests can rule out conditions such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, cerebrovascular diseases and structural disorders of the central nervous system.
For chronic headaches, diagnostic tests might be needed to rule out other medical conditions and might include blood chemistry and urinalysis, imaging scans of the head, an ophthalmology evaluation to rule out pressure on the optic nerve, and a lumbar puncture to check for conditions that might be affecting the brain and spinal cord.
Take action to stop the pain cycle
Treatments for headaches are varied. They include Botox injections in specific points along the bridge of the nose, temples, forehead, back of the head, neck and upper back to help reduce the symptoms caused by migraines. Nerve blocks can be injected into or near a nerve to stop the passage of nerve impulses. While they are often used to stop or abort a specific headache, relief can last for days or weeks after the injections. Trigger point injections use a local anesthetic to block pain receptors within the nerves surrounding a headache-inducing muscle and reduce pain signals sent to the brain. With Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) Therapy, super-physiologically concentrated platelets and growth factors from your own body are injected into muscles that may be the cause of your headache to stimulate their healing and regeneration.
In addition, incorporating complementary alternative medicine (CAM) therapy options like acupuncture, yoga, meditation and relaxation exercises can be effective in relieving the symptoms of chronic headaches.
If you’d like to learn more about options for addressing your headache pain, we encourage you to call Pain Management and Injury Relief at (877) 724-6349 to make an appointment today.