Updated: Apr 24
Most people will have a headache at some time in their lives and around 80% of the population will have a headache at some point this year. The vast majority of these headaches are not dangerous and clear up on their own or with the use of over the counter medicine. But unfortunately for some of the population headaches and migraines occur more frequently and can in some cases be completely debilitating, requiring specialist treatment. The key to gaining the correct treatment is the correct diagnosis, and with there being around 300 different types of headache this is sometimes hard to achieve.
The ICHD 3rd edition (International Classification of Headache Disorders) is a resource created to help medical practitioners to identify the correct diagnosis for their patients, by understanding the type of headache their symptoms fall into. This, in turn, can determine the best course of action for preventative treatment or management of acute episodes. The basic classifications are outlined below.
Primary headaches - these consist of migraines, tension-type headaches, trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (cluster headaches are part of this group) and other primary headache disorders. These types of headaches are not as a result of any other medical condition and generally a lack of causative pathology, trauma or systemic disease.
Secondary headaches - these are much more extensive and are caused by other underlying medical conditions. This classification include headaches attributed to trauma, systemic diseases, infection, disorders of the cranium (such as sinuses issues) and medication overuse (I will be exploring some of these further in future blogs).
Neuropathies and face pain - this classification includes painful neuropathies of the cranial nerves, such as trigeminal neuralgia and can be caused by damage, infection or entrapment of the cranial nerves. These are 12 pairs of nerves that connect your brain to different parts of your head, neck and torso and carry signals to and from your special senses. Sight, smell, taste, hearing and balance are just some of their functions.
Where can I go for help?
If you are suffering from ongoing headache issues you can visit your local primary healthcare provider. This can be your GP or your osteopath, who can work with other medical professionals to get you the right treatment. This can be a combination of medication as well as some of the recommended preventative methods below.
There are also a number of support groups that you can provide information and advice more specific to your type of headache or migraine disorder.
What can I do to help myself?
Sleep - getting enough rest is an important factor in the prevention of headaches. Changes in routine or just generally being tired can be a major factor in contributing to head pain. If you are having trouble sleeping good sleep hygiene as well as a more structured routine can help.
Diet - some foods can be triggers for certain types of headaches, cheese and chocolate are thought to be common ones, but unfortunately, it is not as simple as one food type being your only trigger. Maintaining stable blood sugar levels will also help to keep pain at bay, so a well-balanced diet can be a great preventative. Fasting can be a trigger, so if this is something you are required to do for religious reasons, you may wish to discuss possible modifications with your spiritual advisor.
Hydration - dehydration is a major factor in headache prevention. You should be aiming to drink at least two liters of water per day. If you find this difficult, try dividing it up into smaller bottles or mixing it with a cordial of some sort, but pure water is best. Some of your daily water intake can be through food, and fruit is a great source of nutrition and liquid. Unfortunately, fruit can also be high in sugar, so moderation is key.
Exercise - maintaining regular exercise is extremely helpful in reducing the frequency of headaches. Exercise promotes increase circulation, reduction in muscular tension and reduction in stress levels, along with many other pain-reducing benefits. But beware not to go overboard as exercise can also be a migraine trigger. Start slow and increase activity levels gently. It is important to create a regular routine, rather than going all out on one day and not exercising again for 2 weeks.
Manual therapy - manual therapy, such as osteopathy to reduce muscular tension, reduce stress levels and improve joint mobility can have a great impact on the prevention of many types of headaches. One of the main principals of osteopathy is that the artery rules supreme and our aim is to promote movement of liquid through every cell in the body, helping your body work at peak performance creating perfect balance throughout.
Gayle is an osteopath who has had headaches and migraines for over 25 years. She is a headache and migraine advocate, who is committed to helping educate and treat as many people as possible about diagnosis, treatment and living with headaches and migraines. This is the first in a series of blogs to spread awareness and help share information about types, common and uncommon symptoms, triggers, ways to manage pain and frequency, as well as where you can go for help and support.
Gayle conducts specialist headache appointments via her clinic in Totton, Southampton and also via video consultation. To book an appointment please call 07891718780, find her on Facebook or visit www.align-osteopathy.co.uk