Headache Solutions

Headaches affect just about everyone at some point and they can present themselves in many different ways. Some people only experience pain in one part of their head or behind their eyes, some people experience a pounding sensation inside their whole head, and some people even experience nausea, while others do not. The pain itself may be dull or sharp and may last for anywhere from a few minutes to a few days. Fortunately, very few headaches have serious underlying causes, but those that do require urgent medical attention.

Although headaches can be due to a wide variety of causes, such as drug reactions, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), tightness in the neck muscles, low blood sugar, high blood pressure, stress and fatigue, the majority of recurrent headaches are of two types: tension headaches (also called cervicogenic headaches) and migraine headaches. There is a third, less common, type of headaches called a cluster headache that is a cousin to the migraine. Let’s start out by taking a look at each of these three types of headaches.

Tension Headaches

Tension type headaches are the most common, affecting upwards of 75% of all headache sufferers. Most people describe a tension headache as a constant dull, achy feeling either on one side or both sides of the head, often described as a feeling of a tight band or dull ache around the head or behind the eyes. These headaches usually begin slowly and gradually and can last for minutes or days, and tend to begin in the middle or toward the end of the day. Tension headaches are often the result of stress or bad posture, which stresses the spine and muscles in the upper back and neck.

Tension headaches, or stress headaches, can last from 30 minutes to several days. In some cases, chronic tension headaches may persist for many months. Although the pain can at times be severe, tension headaches are usually not associated with other symptoms, such as nausea, throbbing or vomiting.

The most common cause of tension headaches is subluxations in the upper back and neck, especially the upper neck, usually in combination with active trigger points. When the top cervical vertebrae lose their normal motion or position, a small muscle called the rectus capitis posterior minor (RCPM) muscle goes into spasm. The problem is that this small muscle has a tendon which slips between the upper neck and the base of the skull and attaches to a thin pain-sensitive tissue called the dura mater that covers the brain. Although the brain itself has no feeling, the dura mater is very pain-sensitive. Consequently, when the RCPM muscle goes into spasm and its tendon tugs at the dura mater, a headache occurs. People who hold desk jobs will tend to suffer from headaches for this reason.

Another cause of tension type headaches comes from referred pain from trigger points in the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) or levator muscle on the side of the neck. These are much more common in people who suffer a whiplash injury due to the muscle damage in the neck region.

Many of those who suffer from migraines experience visual symptoms called an “aura” just prior to an attack that is often described as seeing flashing lights.

Migraine Headaches

Each year, about 25 million people in the U.S. experience migraine headaches, and about 75% are women. Migraines are intense and throbbing headaches that are often associated with nausea and sensitivity to light or noise. They can last from as little as a few hours to as long as a few days. Many of those who suffer from migraines experience visual symptoms called an “aura” just prior to an attack that is often described as seeing flashing lights or that everything takes on a dream-like appearance.

Migraine sufferers usually have their first attack before age 30 and they tend to run in families, supporting the notion that there is a genetic component to them. Some people have attacks several times a month; others have less than one a year. Most people find that migraine attacks occur less frequently and become less severe as they get older.

Migraine headaches are caused by a constriction of the blood vessels in the brain, followed by a dilation of blood vessels. During the constriction of the blood vessels there is a decrease in blood flow, which is what leads to the visual symptoms that many people experience. Even in people who don’t experience the classic migraine aura, most of them can tell that an attack is immanent. Once the blood vessels dilate, there is a rapid increase in blood pressure inside the head. It is this increased pressure that leads to the pounding headache. Each time the heart beats it sends another shock wave through the carotid arteries in the neck up into the brain.

There are many theories about why the blood vessels constrict in the first place, but no one knows for sure. What we do know is that there are a number of things that can trigger migraines, such as lack of sleep, stress, flickering lights, strong odors, changing weather patterns and several foods; especially foods that are high in an amino acid called ‘tyramine.’You can reduce the likelihood of migraine headaches by making some lifestyle changes.

Cluster headaches are typically very short in duration and are usually felt on one side of the head behind the eyes.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are typically very short in duration, excruciating headaches, usually felt on one side of the head behind the eyes. Cluster headaches affect about 1 million people in the United States and, unlike migraines, are much more common in men. This is the only type of headache that tends to occur at night. The reason that they are called ‘cluster’ headaches is that they tend to occur one to four times per day over a period of several days. After one cluster of headaches is over, it may be months or even years, before they occur again. Like migraines, cluster headaches are likely to be related to a dilation of the blood vessels in the brain, causing a localized increase in pressure.

Chiropractic Care for Headaches

Numerous research studies have shown that chiropractic adjustments are very effective for treating tension headaches, especially headaches that originate in the neck.

A report released in 2001 by researchers at the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham, NC, found that “spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those headaches that originate in the neck, and had significantly fewer side effects and longer-lasting relief of tension-type headache than commonly prescribed medications.” These findings support an earlier study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics that found spinal manipulative therapy to be very effective for treating tension headaches. This study also found that those who stopped chiropractic treatment after four weeks continued to experience a sustained benefit in contrast to those patients who received pain medication.

Each individual’s case is different and requires a thorough evaluation before a proper course of chiropractic care can be determined. However, in most cases of tension headaches, significant improvement is accomplished through manipulation of the upper two cervical vertebrae, coupled with adjustments to the junction between the cervical and thoracic spine. This is also helpful in most cases of migraine headaches, as long as food and lifestyle triggers are avoided as well.

Headache Trigger Points

Trigger point therapy for headaches tends to involve four muscles: the Splenius muscles, the Suboccipitals, the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) and the Trapezius. The Splenius muscles are comprised of two individual muscles – the Splenius Capitis and the Splenius Cervicis. Both of these muscles run from the upper back to either the base of the skull (splenius capitis) or the upper cervical vertebrae (splenius cervicis). Trigger points in the Splenius muscles are a common cause of headache pain that travels through the head to the back of the eye, as well as to the top of the head.

The Suboccipitals are actually a group of four small muscles that are responsible for maintaining the proper movement and positioning between the first cervical vertebra and the base of the skull. Trigger points in these muscles will cause pain that feels like it’s inside the head, extending from the back of the head to the eye and forehead. Often times it will feel like the whole side of the head hurts, a pain pattern similar to that experienced with a migraine.

The Sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle runs from the base of the skull, just behind the ear, down the side of the neck to attach to the top of the sternum (breastbone). Although most people are not aware of the SCM trigger points, their effects are widespread, including referred pain, balance problems and visual disturbances. Referred pain patterns tend to be deep eye pain, headaches over the eye and can even cause earaches. Another unusual characteristic of SCM trigger points is that they can cause dizziness, nausea and unbalance.

The trapezius muscle is the very large, flat muscle in the upper and mid back. A common trigger point located in the very top of the Trapezius muscle refers pain to the temple and back of the head and is sometimes responsible for headache pain. This trigger point is capable of producing satellite trigger points in the muscles in the temple or jaw, which can lead to jaw or tooth pain.

Avoid Headache Triggers

Stress may be a trigger, but certain foods, odors, menstrual periods, and changes in weather are among many factors that may also trigger headache.

Emotional factors such as depression, anxiety, frustration, letdown, and even pleasant excitement may be associated with developing a headache.

Keeping a headache diary will help you determine whether factors such as food, change in weather, and/or mood have any relationship to your headache pattern.

Repeated exposure to nitrite compounds can result in a dull, pounding headache that may be accompanied by a flushed face. Nitrite, which dilates blood vessels, is found in such products as heart medicine and dynamite, but is also used as a chemical to preserve meat. Hot dogs and other processed meats containing sodium nitrite can cause headaches.

Eating foods prepared with monosodium glutamate (MSG) can result in headache. Soy sauce, meat tenderizer, and a variety of packaged foods contain this chemical which is touted as a flavor enhancer.

Headache can also result from exposure to poisons, even common household varieties like insecticides, carbon tetrachloride, and lead. Children who ingest flakes of lead paint may develop headaches. So may anyone who has contact with lead batteries or lead-glazed pottery.

Foods that are high in the amino acid tyramine should also be avoided, such as ripened cheeses (cheddar, brie), chocolate, as well as any food pickled or fermented foods.

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Getting Back to School Can Be “Back Breaking” Work

There is an estimated 5,000 emergency room visits every year as a result of backpack related injuries.

Children’s backs are both strong and flexible. The spine is not a single bone, but rather a stack of bony doughnuts, with the spinal cord running up and down through the central canal. The spine fits together neatly like a three dimensional puzzle allowing us to bend and twist. There are disc between each bone adding to the spines’ strength and flexibility. The muscle and ligaments in the spine are strong and large enough to safely carry approximately 15% of the child’s body weight, if held in the proper position.

The American Chiropractic Association, its Council on Occupational Health, and Purpose Driven Chiropractic offer the following tips to help prevent the needless pain an over stuffed backpack could cause the student in your household. And now that backpacks have begun to replace briefcases in the work place, you too might want to follow this advice:

-Make sure your child’s backpack weighs no more than 15 percent of his or her body weight.  The backpack will cause your child to begin bending forward in an attempt to support the weight on his or her back rather than on the shoulders, by the straps.

-A backpack with individualized compartments will help you position the contents most effectively and ensure that your child’s sandwich isn’t flattened by a heavy textbook.

-When packing the backpack, make sure that pointy or bulky objects are packed away from the area that will rest on the child’s back.  An uneven surface rubbing against your child’s back could cause painful blisters.

-Tell your child to use both shoulder straps, not just one.  A backpack slung over one shoulder disproportionately shifts all of the weight to one side, and can cause not only neck and muscle spasms, but also low back pain.

-Padded shoulder straps are very important.  Not only will they be more comfortable than non-padded straps, but they will also help prevent the straps from digging into your child’s shoulders.

-The shoulder straps should be adjustable, so the backpack can be fitted to your child’s body.  Shoulder straps that are too loose can cause the backpack to dangle uncomfortably, and cause misalignment and pain.

-If the backpack is still too heavy, talk with your child’s teacher.  It might be possible to leave the heaviest books at school, and bring home only lighter handout materials or work books.

-Talk to your child about the proper use of backpacks and help him or her understand why this and other ergonomic issues are important.  A child who is educated early in life on these issues can apply this knowledge late in life (at home or in the office) and as a result, your child will be happier and healthier.

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An Answer To Your Unexplained Headaches;TMJ

TMJ is an acronym for temporomandibular joint disorder. Often an extremely painful condition, it is caused by displacement of the cartilage where the lower jaw connects to the skull. This is one of the most commonly used joints in the body. It moves every time you chew, talk or use your mouth at all.

The temporomandibular joint is the hinge joint that connects the lower jaw to the temporal bone of the skull, which is immediately in front of the ear on each side of your head. Muscles attached to and surrounding the jaw joint control the position and movement of the jaw.

The displacement creates a painful pressure and stretching of the associated sensory nerves. You might have TMJ if you feel like your jaw is locking or clicking, if you have a problem opening your mouth fully or if you have frequent headaches, pains in or around your ear, pain in your neck, or swelling on the side of your face.

Not all causes are known. Some possible causes or contributing factors are injuries to the jaw area, various forms of Arthritis, dental procedures, genetics, hormones, low-level infections, auto-immune diseases, stretching of the jaw as occurs with inserting a breathing tube before surgery, excessive gum chewing or nail biting, and clenching or grinding of the teeth.

Whatever the cause it is important to get your TMJ addressed by a professional. Proper evaluation will determine the cause, severity, and treatment of your TMJ disorder. Some conditions require a nighttime splint to deter Bruxism (repetitive unconscious clenching or grinding of teeth, often at night), Corrective surgery for misalignment, or corrective dental procedures for improper alignment of tooth surface. A Physical Therapist or Chiropractor can provide you with proper stretching a strengthening exercises for your TMJ. Chiropractic care works on correcting misaligned or out of place temporomandibular joint and can remove the pressure, reducing pain and improving flexibility and function.

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Is PMS Controlling Your Life?

Premenstrual Syndrome, or PMS, is a very real disorder for an estimated 40 million women whom suffer with regularly recurring symptoms from ovulation until menses. PMS characterized by a set of hormonal changes that trigger disruptive symptoms. The majority of women suffer for up to two weeks prior to menstruation. Often symptoms tend to taper off with menstruation and women remain symptom-free until the two weeks or so prior to the next menstrual period.

Not all women suffer with the same symptoms, or experience the same set, or level of symptoms with each cycle. Symptoms are both physical and emotional and severe to mild in nature. Common complaints are fatigue, headache or migraine, bloating, constipation, abdominal cramping, weight gain, fluid retention, lack of coordination, joint and back pain.  Suffers also report crying-spells, depression, anxiety, anger, mood-swings, irritability, panic attacks, heart palpitations, food cravings, and decreased libido.

Many women feel controlled and consumed by the physical and emotional components that come with PMS. Although PMS is not fully understood it is generally believed that PMS stems from neurochemical and hormonal changes within the brain.

The female hormone estrogen starts to rise after menstruation and peaks around mid-cycle (ovulation). It then rapidly drops only to slowly rise and then fall again in the time before menstruation. Estrogen has a central neurologic effect: it can contribute to increase brain activity.  Estrogen holds fluid and with increasing estrogen comes fluid retention: many women report weight gains of five pounds premenstrually. It can also contribute to retention of salt and a drop in blood sugar. Estrogen can also slow bowel motility. It has other functions to promote formation of female secondary sex characteristics, accelerate metabolism, reduce muscle mass, increase fat stores, increase vaginal lubrication, thicken the vaginal wall.

The rise and fall of estrogen can put women on an roller coater of emotions as well as frustrating weight fluctuations. Stress, low levels of vitamins and minerals, consuming a lot of salty foods, which may cause you to retain (keep) fluid, drinking alcohol and caffeine, which may alter your mood and energy level, all heighten PMS symptoms.

How do you control your hormones without letting them control you?

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get regular exercise; endorphins are released during physical activity that may help combat the negative emotions you may be feeling.
  • Eat a balanced diet with large amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Consume foods rich in Vitamin B6 (chicken, turkey, cod, salmon, halibut, bell peppers, spinach, yams, green peas, broccoli, asparagus, sunflower seeds, cashews, hazelnuts, chickpeas, and kidney beans)
  • Take “whole food based” supplementation B6
  • Reduce the amount of caffeine, alcohol, and salt in your diet
  • Find ways to outlet stress: exercise, yoga, meditation, deep breathing and relaxation, or seek a counselor.
  • Visit a Chiropractor or Acupuncturist whom focus on the nervous system and female hormones whom can help you control PMS symptoms naturally
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Did Your Mother Tell You To “Sit Up Straight”?! Why Mom Know’s Best

As the twig is bent, so grows the tree

The ancient Japanese art form of growing Bonsai trees is fascinating. Bonsai trees are essentially normal shrubs that have been consistently stressed in a particular way for a long time to create a posture which would never be found in nature. Depending on how the tree is stressed while it grows, it may end up looking like a miniature version of a full-sized tree, or it may end up looking like a wild tangle of branches with twists and loops. To most people, “good posture” simply means sitting and standing up straight. Few of us realize the importance of posture to our health and performance.

The human body craves alignment. When we are properly aligned, our bones, not our muscles, support our weight, reducing effort and strain. The big payoff with proper posture is that we feel healthier, have more energy, and move gracefully. It is not just about standing up straight. It’s about being aware of and connected to every part of your self.

Posture ranks right up at the top of the list when you are talking about good health. It is as important as eating right, exercising, getting proper rest and avoiding potentially harmful substances like alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. Good posture is a way of doing things with more energy, less stress and fatigue. Without good posture, you cannot really be physically fit. Without good posture, you can actually damage your spine every time you exercise.

Ideally, our bones stack up one upon the other: the head rests directly on top of the spine, which sits directly over the pelvis, which sits directly over the knees and ankles. But if you spend hours every day sitting in a chair, if you hunch forward or balance your weight primarily on one leg, the muscles of your neck and back have to carry the weight of the body rather than it being supported by the spine. The resulting tension and joint pressure can affect you not only physically, but emotionally, too, — from the predictable shoulder and back pain to headaches, short attention span, and depression.

Poor posture distorts the alignment of bones, chronically tenses muscles, and contributes to stressful conditions such as loss of vital lung capacity, increased fatigue, reduced blood and oxygen to the brain, limited range of motion, stiffness of joints, pain syndromes, reduced mental alertness, and decreased productivity at work. According to the Nobel Laureate Dr. Roger Sperry, “the more mechanically distorted a person is, the less energy is available for thinking, metabolism, and healing.”

The most immediate problem with poor posture is that it creates a lot of chronic muscle tension as the weight of the head and upper body must be supported by the muscles instead of the bones. This effect becomes more pronounced the further your posture deviates from your body’s center of balance.

To illustrate this idea further, think about carrying a briefcase. If you had to carry a briefcase with your arms outstretched in front of you, it would not take long before the muscles of your shoulders would be completely exhausted. This is because carrying the briefcase far away from your center of balance places undue stress on your shoulder muscles. If you held the same briefcase down at your side, your muscles would not fatigue as quickly, because the briefcase is closer to your center of balance and therefore the weight is supported by the bones of the skeleton, rather than the muscles.

Correcting bad posture and the physical problems that result can be accomplished in two ways. The first is by eliminating as much “bad” stress from your body as possible. Bad stress includes all the factors, habits, or stressors that cause your body to deviate from your structural center. Bad stress can result from a poorly adjusted workstation at work, from not having your seat adjusted correctly in your car, or even from carrying too much weight around in a heavy purse or backpack.

The second is by applying “good” stress on the body in an effort to move your posture back toward your center of balance. This is accomplished through a series of exercises, stretches, adjustments, and changes to your physical environment, all designed to help correct your posture. Getting your body back to its center of balance by improving your posture is critically important to improving how you feel.

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Is Bedwetting An Embarrassing Secret In Your Home?

Bedwetting is stressful for everyone involved. Lack of bladder control can cause embarrassment, shame, and interfere with normal social development. Nocturnal Enuresis, the medical term for bedwetting, may be a gentler term for shameful adolescents and teenagers who suffer from this frustrating condition. Assure them, they are not alone. Children who are bedwetters often have a parent whom was also one. Talk sympathetically with your child about this. Do not shame them, use derogatory terms such as, that’s “gross”, “stinky”, or “you are old enough to know better”. This shame can be internalized and lead to further esteem issues in the future. Instead explore some options of why your child may be suffering.

  • 75% of all childhood bedwetters have a parent who also was one.
  • The communication link between their brain and bladder is being interrupted or not mature enough yet to function properly during sleep.
  • He or she is a very deep sleeper; therefore, their brain just does not receive the “full bladder” signal.
  • He or she may have a lower level of anti-diuretic hormone (ADH). ADH tells the kidneys to stop producing urine when you sleep.
  • He or she has a smaller bladder that cannot hold urine through the night.
  • Your child is constipated and the bowel is putting pressure on the bladder.
  • The bladder is hyperactive or irritated
  •  Medical conditions, such as diabetes, urinary infections
  • Stress or other emotional disorders

Often parents feel helpless and are not given many options. They are told to let them “outgrow it”, or given prescription medication to control it. Unfortunately, while your child is trying to “outgrow” this condition he or she may be missing out, or avoiding, social events with their friends. They are anxious to fall into deep sleep, and can miss out on vital REM sleep needed for their ever-so- developing bodies. The older they get the more frustrating this condition becomes. They may not wake fully rested and can affect mood, energy levels, discipline, and academics.

Medications used to treat bedwetting are full of harmful and even lethal side effects that are instead of treating the condition, covering up symptoms, and harming their internal organs.

Speak with your child, let them know they are not to blame, and you want to help. Together explore some options that may be compounding or heightening their condition.

Common bladder irritants:

  • Carbonated beverages (with or without caffeine)
  • Milk or milk products
  • Citrus fruits/juices
  • Tomatoes or tomato based products
  • Spicy foods
  • Sugar, honey, corn syrup
  • Artifical sweetners (careful these can be hidden ingredients and named Splenda sucralose, Nutrasweet, aspartame, L-aspartyl-L-phenylalanine methyl ester, aspartic acid, phenylalanine, Sweet’n Low (mix of dextrose and saccharin)
  • Chocolate
  • Vitamins B and C
  • Caffeine
  • Coffee or Tea (with or without caffeine)

Evaluate your child’s diet closely and monitor bowel patterns. Constipation can play a large role in bladder irritation. It is important they are getting enough fiber in their diet. 20 grams is needed, fruits and vegetables are a great source. Find some your child likes. Make sure your child drinks plenty of water. As a general rule of thumb half and ounce of water per pound of body weight is recommended (ie 40 lb child should consume 20 oz of water.)  Often parents try limiting water, which can be a huge mistake. Instead be sure your child is drinking adequate amounts during the day so they are not begging for water at bedtime.

If a child, who had been dry at night for a period of time – weeks or months – suddenly starts bed-wetting again, this may be a sign that something is wrong. Most often this happens when some form of stress is in the child’s life: a new baby in the home, moving to a new neighborhood, or a divorce. Bedwetting may also be a sign of physical or sexual abuse or some other disease process. If your child wets the bed after having been dry at night in the past, it is important that they be seen by a doctor. The bed-wetting may be a sign that stress or a disease is causing the problem.

Chiropractic can help by removing any irritation that may be affecting the nerves that control bladder function. These nerves exit an area of the spine called the Sacrum. In adults, the sacrum is one large fused bone that is very resistant to injury. However, during childhood, the sacrum is separated into five individual segments. If these segments become misaligned, due to a fall or other type of trauma, they can compromise the nerves that are responsible for bladder function. While chiropractic is not typically a treatment for bedwetting, countless children have been helped by being adjusted. In fact, a number of clinical research studies have demonstrated that chiropractic care can help many children suffering from bedwetting.

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Does Your Newborn Seem to Cry For No Reason?

Colic usually appears between the 3rd and 6th week after birth and is typically resolved by the time they are 3 months old. Although no one is certain what causes colic, there are a number of things that likely contribute, such as an immature and irritated nervous system, food sensitivities and gastrointestinal upset.

Because the birthing process is very stressful on the neck of a newborn, it may irritate the tiny and delicate nervous system. It is very common for their irritated spine to contribute to colic. It has also been observed that babies with colic seem to need more attention and are more sensitive to the things around them than other babies – again indicating that there are some neurological differences.

Both the mother’s and the baby’s diet can be huge factors in the development of colic. One of the biggest offenders is cow’s milk. Babies should not have cow’s milk, or dairy in any form for that matter, until they are at least two or three years old. Cow’s milk contains the sugar lactose which many newborn babies cannot digest very well, not to mention that cow’s milk contains many proteins that are not good for an infant’s digestive system.

Another potential dietary contributor to colic is the mother’s diet while breastfeeding. Women who breast feed should stay away from spicy foods, alcohol and tobacco, as well as to avoid eating too much of any one particular food. A semi-bland, high-protein diet that excludes dairy is probably best – at least during the first three or four months of breastfeeding.

If your baby suffers from colic, there are a few things that you can do to help:

  • Seek regular chiropractic care, especially during the first four months.
  • Place a warm water bottle on your baby’s stomach.
  • Rock your baby in a rocking chair or cradle.
  • Give your baby a warm bath.
  • Gently rub your baby’s stomach.
  • Go for a drive with your baby in the car seat.
  • Feed your baby more often with less food at each feeding.
  • If you feed your baby formula, avoid soy or dairy-based formulas.
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