There are many possible causes of headaches; and the first step in effective management is determining the type of headache you have and its root cause.
The majority of headaches can fall into one of three categories:
- Tension headaches – the most common type that occur as a result of tightening muscles in the head, neck, and upper back. Some of the factors that can cause these muscles to contract can include, but are not limited to, poor posture; long periods of screen time; eye stress; and fatigue.
- Cervicogenic headaches – referred pain from the neck as a result of mechanical disorder of the cervical spine and its joints, disc, and/or soft tissue elements. Often this type of headache can be preceded by neck pain that then spreads into the head.
- Migraine headaches – a chronic neurological disorder that is often described as throbbing and is of moderate to severe intensity. Migraine headaches are also often associated with nausea, photophobia (hypersensitivity to light), and phonophobia (hypersensitivity to noise).
At Body Active Physiotherapy, we will take a detailed history and carefully assess the factors that may be triggering and causing your headaches. Any musculoskeletal dysfunction in neck, upper back, and shoulders can be addressed by our physios to help relieve headache and migraine pain. In addition, you may be provided with further preventative measures such as targeted strengthening exercises, and postural and ergonomic advice.
There are however a small percentage of headaches that may be indicative of a more serious underlying pathology. “Red flags” for the presence of serious underlying disorders as a cause of acute or subacute headache can be remembered by using the mnemonic SNOOP.
Systemic symptoms or illness (including fever, persistent or progressive vomiting, stiff neck, pregnancy, cancer, immunocompromised state, anticoagulated);
Neurologic signs or symptoms (including altered mental status, focal neurologic symptoms or signs, seizures, or papilledema);
Onset is new (especially in those age 40 years or older) or sudden;
Other associated conditions (e.g., headache is subsequent to head trauma, awakens patient from sleep, or is worsened by Valsalva manoeuvres);
Prior headache history that is different (i.e., headaches now are of different pattern or are rapidly progressive in severity or frequency).
When such red flags are present, please see your doctor to investigate if there are secondary causes to your headache.