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Headache types: Tension, cluster or migraine?

By Staff | Sep 20, 2018

Headaches are among the most common disorders of the human nervous system worldwide. The most common headache types include tension, migraine and cluster. In the United States, over 15 percent of all adults complain about chronic severe headaches, with prevalence among women more than twice as high as among men.

It is estimated that 90 percent of all adults have experienced tension headaches, which are usually described as a band of pain that surrounds the forehead, temples, scalp, face, eyes, jaw and/or neck.

Classic symptoms of migraine include intense, throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head accompanied by nausea, vomiting, dizziness, visual disturbances and sensitivity to light and sound.

Cluster headaches are often considered the worst headache type known to medical science. These headaches occur in ‘attacks’ known as clusters and typically involve debilitating pain on one side of the head behind the eye as well as tearing of the eye, drooping of the eyelid and nasal congestion.

While headaches can be triggered by a number of factors, including alcohol, stress, clenching of the teeth and jaw, computer work, poor posture, excessive light or sound, fatigue, hunger, food sensitivities, hormonal fluctuation, weather changes, caffeine, cigarette smoke or barometric pressure changes, it is important to understand that these “trigger factors” may not necessarily be the underlying cause of an individual’s chronic headaches.

Instead, one causal factor, which is beginning to appear more frequently in medical research, is head and/or neck trauma. Common sources of trauma include blows to the head, whiplash and/or concussion sustained as a result of motor vehicle accidents, falls, and through high-impact sports. Any of the above incidences of trauma may cause ligaments supporting the head and neck to be sprained (stretched), which forces the skull and upper cervical (neck) vertebrae out of their normal biomechanical position. It is thought that trauma to the alignment of the head and upper neck (C1 and C2 vertebrae) alters nerve and blood flow in the brainstem, leading to headaches.

Luckily, a rare chiropractic technique which focuses upon the alignment of the head and neck, known as upper cervical care, has shown promise for headache patients. In order to determine whether a headache patient may benefit from care, the upper cervical chiropractor will perform two diagnostic tests – thermal imaging and digital X-rays of the spine. If an upper cervical misalignment is diagnosed, the patient’s injured neck is corrected by administering a precise adjustment by hand on a specially-designed knee chest table. Many headache patients notice improvement in symptoms with just a few treatments.

With over 20 years of experience as a specialist in the upper cervical spine, Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Erin Elster, D.C., has successfully treated over 300 patients with chronic headaches including cluster, migraine and tension. Her published headache research is available on her website: www.erinelster.com. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, contact Dr. Elster in Kahului at (808) 866-6551 or erin@erinelster.com.