This article is part 1 of a 2 part series. For Part 2, click here.
Headaches come in several different sizes, shapes, and colors, so to speak. In fact, if you search “headache classification,” you will find the IHS (International Headache Society) 152-page manual (PDF) lists MANY different types of headaches! Last month, we discussed migraine headaches. This month, we’ll talk about the other headache types. So WHY is this important? Very simply, if we know the type of headache you have, we will be able to provide you with the proper treatment. Headaches are classified into two main groups: “primary” and “secondary” headaches. The “Primary” headache list includes: 1) Migraine; 2) Tension-type; 3) Cluster; 4) “Other primary headaches,” of which eight are listed. One might think that with this simple breakdown of the different types of headaches it should be easy to diagnose a type of headache. Unfortunately, that’s NOT true! In fact, a 2004 study published that 80% of people with a recent history of either self- or doctor-diagnosed sinus headache had NO signs of sinus infection and actually met the criteria for migraine headaches! So, the more we can learn about the different types of headaches, the more likely that we will arrive at an accurate diagnosis.
Tension-Type Headaches: This is the most common type affecting between 30-78% of the general population. It is usually described as a constant ache or pressure either around the head, in the temples, or the back of the head and/or neck. There is typically NO nausea/vomiting, and tension-type headaches rarely stop you from performing normal activities. These headaches usually respond well to chiropractic adjustments and to over-the-counter pain relief medications, though we’d prefer you first reach for an anti-inflammatory herb like ginger, turmeric, bioflavonoid, and the like as these have less stomach, liver, and/or kidney related side-effects. These headaches are typically caused by contraction of the neck and scalp muscles, which can be result of stress, trauma, lack of sleep, eyestrain, and more.
Cluster Headaches: These are less common, typically affect men more than women, and occur in groups or cycles. These are VERY DISABLING and usually arise suddenly and create severe, debilitating pain usually on only one side of the head. Other characteristics include: a watery eye, sinus congestion, or runny nose on the same side of the face as the headache. An “attack” often includes restlessness and difficulty finding a pain-reducing, comfortable position. There is no known cause of cluster headaches, though a genetic or hereditary link has been proposed. The good news is that chiropractic adjustments can reduce the intensity, frequency, and duration of cluster headaches!
Sinus Headaches: Sinusitis (inflamed sinuses) can be due to allergies or an infection that results in a headache. This may or may not include a fever, but the main distinguishing feature here is pain over the infected sinus. There are four sets of sinuses. Many people know about the frontal (above the eyes on the forehead) and maxillary (under the eyes in our cheeks) but the two sinuses deep in head (ethmoid and sphenoid sinuses) are much less known or talked about. These two deep sinuses refer pain to the back of the head, and when infected, it feels like the back of the head could explode. Lying flat is too painful so sitting up is necessary. Chiropractic adjustments applied to the sinuses, upper neck, and lymphatic drainage techniques work GREAT in these cases!
We will continue next month with the remaining types of headaches!