Headaches – General

June is National Headache/Migraine awareness month. 

In this post I want to provide some general information about headaches. (Quick disclaimer, despite their separation in the month title, migraines are a type of headache.)

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the American Academy of Neurology, classify headaches as either primary or secondary. Primary headaches are defined as independent, while secondary headaches are usually symptoms of other medical conditions.

The three most common types of primary headaches are: tension headaches, which are muscle-based; and migraine headaches and cluster headaches, which are neurologically-based. 

Tension headaches have two main presentations. 

One is characterized as a dull pain, or tender area, around the temples, which can occur on one side, or both sides, of the head. The other presentation is characterized by a dull pain or tender area at the base of the skull. This may be exacerbated when a person turns their head to either side. Despite occurring in different locations, both presentations are due to muscle-tightness; the first due to muscle tightness around the skull and the second due to muscle-tightness in the neck and shoulders.

Migraine headaches and cluster headaches are both neurologically-based.

Migraine headaches are defined as severe pain that can last anywhere from 3 to 72 hours. They occur singularly and are usually extremely debilitating.

Cluster headaches also involve severe pain and can be debilitating. However, they occur in clusters, or groups, meaning you have multiple, extremely painful headaches in a single day. These “multiple headache days” then randomly occur for up to three months, after which, they may disappear for months to years before recurring.

Unfortunately, unlike with tension headaches, we do not yet know the exact cause of migraine or cluster headaches.

Secondary Headaches are typically due to natural hormonal issues, but can also be due to: sinus pressure; fever; infections; high blood pressure; strokes; tumors; medication, or medical procedure, side effects; or trauma, specifically concussions.

Both primary and secondary headaches can be further classified as “acute” or “chronic.” Acute headaches are those that have sudden or immediate onset, usually without warning, while chronic headaches occur periodically for at least three months. Namely, the differences between acute headaches and chronic ones, all have to do with time, intensity, and frequency.

If you suffer from headaches, it is recommended that you start to keep a “headache journal” This should include things like: what time of day or night the headache occurs; the intensity of the headache; how frequent the headaches are; your diet; and lastly the location of the headache in your head, neck, or shoulders.

In addition, massage therapy is a proven way to help with some headaches. For tension-headaches, massaging the muscles in the neck and shoulders, relieves the muscle tightness that is causing the headache. For migraine-headaches, specifically those with associated muscle pain, adding a regular massage to your “self-care” program, can help reduce the overall pain and intensity you experience during the migraine-headache.

Whether you are experiencing tension-headaches or migraine headaches, I recommend adding a regular massage to your “self-care” plan. If you have any questions about this post or would like to schedule a massage with me, you may reach me at humantouchmassagemn.com

In my next post I will go into more detail about migraine-headaches.

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