This article is a general introduction to headaches. We will discuss the two major types and what can be done about them.
Years of headaches!
‘…I suffered from chronic headaches for more than 10 years. I tried everything: tablets, physios, chiropractors; you name it, I tried it. Nothing worked until a friend put me on to Tim. I had my doubts but thought I would give it a go. I had nothing to lose. It’s been three years now since my last treatment and I am headache free. It was the best decision of my life…”
This testimony is written by Mark. I saw Mark quite a few years ago. But his story I hear repeated all the time. Headaches are SO common and SO fixable, if you know where to look!
Mark is no shrinking violet, he is a big guy with some ink and does some serious physical labour. Yet his headaches were killing him. His headaches were so strong they would affect his vision. When I saw Mark he had had these headaches weekly, in fact most days, for about 10 years. And in just two or three treatments they were gone.
In fact it was only when I saw Mark again years later, headache free for that whole time that I received a testimonial from him.
Should I mention that it took his neighbour well over a year to convince him to come!
This is common. And I can understand it. If you have tried plenty of therapies then why would ‘Myotherapy’ be any different. Anyway, you can start to hear why I love what I do.
Let me give you an introduction to the most common headaches.
Two different types of headache . . .
Okay. So of the 6000 patients I have seen over the years with only a couple of exceptions, everyone who presented with headaches had either a vascular headache or a myofascial headache.
The vast majority of headaches are caused by ‘myofascial pain’. This is pain that is referred from muscles, tendons and soft tissues. All of the muscles in your upper back, neck, scalp and jaw have their very own referred pain patterns. So each muscle will refer to very specific parts of the head. For example, SCM (sternocleidomastoid) is a muscle in the front of your neck.
If you turn your head fully to the left, then feel the front of your neck down near your collar bone, near your throat a ‘rope’ will stand up. Can you feel it? This is the lower end of SCM. You can follow it up the side of your neck to its attachment behind your ear.
Well, SCM is capable of referring pain around the eyebrow and temple on the same side and possibly the back of the head too. This is a headache some of you are familiar with. Curiously, SCM will cause no neck pain or stiffness but it will cause a ripping headache.
SCM is just one muscle of many in your neck and jaw that each refer pain to specific locations. Usually when someone presents to me with years of headaches they are suffering from multiple referred pain patterns from multiple muscles. The process of treatment is to layer by layer identify and resolve all the pain patterns present.
What about the other type of headache?
Now, as you can imagine, with lots of muscles around the upper back, neck and jaw there are heaps of variations in headache that can come from this myofascial origin. The type of pain, the intensity and even symptoms like blurred vision, loss of balance, tenderness, nausea and many more can arise just from the muscles around the neck and jaw.
There is one other main category of headache, however, and this is known as a vascular headache. A vascular headache occurs when the blood vessels in your cranium constrict and then suddenly dilate causing a sudden rush of blood to the head (kudos to all Coldplay fans). The pressure created by the blood causes pain, usually throbbing in nature, worsened with physical activity and also often accompanied by visual disturbances and nausea.
What’s a Migraine?
The vascular headache that I have just described to you is a true migraine. The constriction and dilation of the blood vessels in the head is usually triggered by something ‘internal’. This means that a food intolerance may trigger the headache, or hormonal fluctuations, or extreme fatigue and so on. In other words a vascular migraine DOES NOT come from your neck.
Migraines are curious creatures. Some migraines are painless, only causing a visual disturbance and severe migraines will cause nausea to the point of vomiting.
What’s the difference between a migraine and a headache?
The answer to this is not simple. So much so that much of the medical profession still get it wrong. See, because myofascial headaches can cause nausea and visual disturbance they are often diagnosed as ‘migraines’. But technically they are not. Of the hundreds of chronic headaches I resolve every year only about 10 per cent of them are true migraines. Despite the fact that a much higher percentage than this have been diagnosed as migraines by local doctors.
You may begin to understand doctors and patients’ frustration when medication designed to treat a vascular migraine does not touch the pain a patient is suffering.
Because they are suffering a myofascial headache that looks like a migraine.
Some differences go like this:
A myofascial headache will love heat but a vascular headache will love a cold face washer.
A myofascial headache will feel better with exercise but a vascular headache will feel worse with exercise.
A myofascial headache will cause nausea but NOT vomiting but a vascular headache will often lead to vomiting.
A myofascial headache will usually build up over days but a vascular headache will simply hit you from left field.
The reality is that many patients I see are suffering from a combination of BOTH of these headaches. The vascular headache will only arise every 30 to 60 days but the myofascial headaches fill in the weeks between. It takes a skilled therapist to discern the difference and treat each symptom accordingly.
How do I fix it . . .
Myofascial headaches respond famously to treatment and can, in most cases, be resolved permanently. The good news is that MOST headaches are this sort. The other 15 per cent of headaches are vascular headaches, which can be harder to solve. The solution is in finding the trigger and addressing that. Food intolerance and hormonal triggers are the most common. In a small percentage of vascular headaches, the symptom can only be reduced but not resolved.
You may be saying to yourself ‘That’s great Tim, forget all the technical jargon. Just fix it!’
Myotherapy is brilliant. I very rarely see headaches I cannot fix. It is just amazing how few therapists are good at identifying and resolving long-term headaches. With a thorough knowledge of myofascial pain patterns and vascular headache symptoms, a good Myotherapist can employ a process of elimination to figure out and resolve long-standing dysfunction and provide a solution to this common complaint.
Don’t put up with headaches any longer!
– Tim King | Myotherapist