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What Is a “Normal” Headache?

What’s a Normal Headache?

Headaches-Migraines – This is truly one of the more frustrating things that I hear in practice. When someone tells me about their “normal headache”. I remember having conversations with friends who used to describe their headaches as a normal part of their day, with the expectation that everyone just has their head hurt on a daily basis.

From a physiology standpoint, it would seem silly and completely maladaptive for the human body to make head pain a normal part of body’s day to day functions.

How do you know what type of headache you have? What type of treatments are best for each headache? We’ll break all of that down today.

Tension Headaches

These are the most common headaches, and what most people classify as a “Normal Headache”. This type is known for having a band like compression around the temples, forehead, or back of the head. Many people call this a stress headache because it is exacerbated by a person’s response to stressful situations. These headaches are typically mechanical in nature (tight muscles, associated with neck pain)

There is a lot of variation in the duration and intensity of this type of headache. Even though the pain can become severe (as high as a 8 or 9/10 on the pain scale), the lack of neurological symptoms imply that the nature of the headache has a different origin.

Most people control these headaches with massage, over the counter medications, and conventional chiropractic to provide short-term relief. Things like Yoga and stress management techniques are also popular treatments.

Migraine Headaches

A severe headache is NOT the same as a migraine. It’s important to recognize this because the nature of a migraine headache goes beyond mechanical dysfunction. Migraines are characterized by abnormalities in blood flow to the brain, which creates some distinct neurological symptoms. Most migraines feature:

– Severe headache
– Sensitivity to light
– Aura and other visual disturbances
– Nausea
– Pins and needle sensation
– Post headache hangover

Treatments usually go beyond over the counter medications. Drugs like Imitrix is used during attacks and preventative medications like propanolol are used to reduce occurrences. Botox injections are also an emerging therapy of choice for many doctors. Lifestyle control includes caffeine management.

Other headaches

Of course there are several other types of headaches. Things like cluster headaches, sinus headaches, and trigeminal nerve pain fall into the spectrum of common headaches. Another emerging class of headache include those that come from chronic use of pain medication, which has led to a search for new drugs or non-drug therapies to try to manage this common debilitating problem.

The truth is, because headaches are experienced differently by so many people, it might be best to figure out where headaches have a commonality.

The Craniocervical Junction and the Trigeminal Nucleus

The craniocervical junction is a fancy term for where the head meets the neck. A tremendous amount of research is going on in this part of the body because of how big a role it plays on the brain and overall neurology. One of the things that they have found is that this part of the body has a big influence on a part of the spinal cord called the trigeminal nucleus.

The trigeminal nucleus is where the nerve cells exist that provide innervation for head, neck, face, jaw, the brain’s outer covering, and the blood vessels of the brain. Here’s a surprising fact:

The brain itself does not feel pain

When you feel pain in your head, it is coming from brain’s outer covering called the meninges, and the blood vessels. All of these structures feed into the trigeminal nucleus and this piece of anatomy tells our brain what it should feel.

Symetry Matters

In the world of Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we find that symmetry of the upper cervical spine matters. When you lose your normal structural symmetry of the spine, then the trigeminal nucleus is less likely to work properly. That’s why headache patients usually respond so quickly to this unique type of care.

Of course it may not help every person with headaches. The truth is that headaches can be affected by tumors, chemicals, and even food for some select cases. However, a gross majority of the population’s headaches are likely secondary to a structural shift of the head and neck.

Dr. Jonathan Chung