• Michelle Lieu

The 6 Not-So-Well-Known Factors for Ongoing Headaches

Headaches can be a nuisance at the best of times, and excruciating at its worst. You may have been suffering from headaches for a long time, with no real understanding of why or how it starts. The common “treatment” for headaches is simply rest and to take over-the-counter painkillers -- but what happens when these things stop working for you?

If you’ve ever wondered whether there is more to headaches than simply popping pills or using half your day to “sleep it off”, then read on! This post is for you.


So what can contribute to my headaches?

The first thing to note is that headaches are simultaneously common and complex presentations.They can be triggered by single factors, and with the right investigations into exactly why the headaches happen, you can generally decrease the headaches by avoiding the aggravating activity.


But what happens when you’ve been experiencing these headaches more frequently, despite your best efforts to avoid the usual aggravating activities?


Headaches aren’t as simple as we once thought. Multiple studies show that there are usually several factors that can influence the frequency, severity and type of headaches you may experience, including:

  • Neck stiffness

  • Clenching/grinding of jaw

  • Allergies/Infection

  • Eyesight

  • Dehydration

  • Stress

Let's explore how these different factors can affect the headaches you experience.


Neck Referral

Headaches that originate from the neck or cervicogenic headaches, are common in people who have a tendency to slouch or who have a history of ongoing neck pain and stiffness.

These headaches are often characterised by:

  • Starting from the base of the skull

  • Accompanying neck stiffness/pain

  • Able to alternate between left and right side of head

  • Worsen following stressful events

  • Commonly experienced after sustained use of certain neck postures ie. looking down at a book/phone, sitting at a computer, sleeping on different pillow

These headaches can be further aggravated by head movements, and generally don’t respond to painkillers. They can also run to the back of the eye in some cases.



Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ)

Headaches caused by the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), are often associated with those who unconsciously clench their jaws when stressed, or have a history of grinding their teeth when sleeping.

These headaches are more characterised by:

  • Sore/clicky jaw

  • Tooth aches

  • Headaches concentrated in the temples

  • Can worsen following stressful events


TMJ headaches can also be affected on one or both sides, and can often be replicated when feeling around your jaw muscles.


If you’re unsure whether you grind your teeth at night, consult your dentist upon your next check up.


Allergies/infections

With spring time comes different types of allergies and with it, comes an increased frequency of headaches. In some cases, these headaches can even produce severe migraines with no seeming cause.


These headaches are often brought on by allergies or sinus infections which can often feel like:

  • Congestion

  • Runny nose (with cloudy, yellow discharge)

  • Mild to moderately dull or throbby headaches

  • Increased sensitivity around the forehead, on either side of the nose and underneath the cheekbones


Infections are generally systemic - meaning that regardless of the site of infection, a lot of other bodily systems are affected. Persistent and ongoing headaches with no identifiable cause and accompanying fever, should be seen by your local doctor to rule out any serious infections.


Eyesight

Sight plays a pivotal role in your perception, and therefore has a major link to your central nervous system. Often, many visual problems can force your eye muscles to work harder than usual, thus resulting in increased eye strain.


Not only do visual problems result in straining your eyes muscles, but often the light and the glare from long hours in front of a computer screen or phone, can cause further issues with your vision. Combat these issues by implementing the '20-20-20 Rule'.

Another effect of eyesight on headaches is a result of poor eyesight leading to poorer posture at work. You may notice that you need to look closer at your computer screen or office documents, and habitually, we move our heads closer to the object rather than bring the object closer to us, resulting in a prolonged hunch position.


These positions can lead to increased load going through your neck and shoulders as discussed previously in the paragraphs above.


Dehydration

Headaches are often a common symptom of dehydration -- even mild dehydration can cause the onset of headaches. Our bodies rely heavily on the internal balance of water and electrolytes to keep us functioning. Everyday, our bodies lose fluid through sweat, urine, saliva and through other bodily fluids, and usually a healthy diet is sufficient in maintaining the water balance.


Generally, it is recommended that you drink around 3% of your body weight per day and more depending on the climate, medications, illnesses (ie. vomiting and diarrhea) and amount of exercise from the day.


Symptoms of dehydration can include:

  • Decreased urine output

  • Dry mouth

  • Dark coloured urine

  • Dizziness (especially when standing up)

  • Loss of skin elasticity


Pinch Test

A simple test to check whether you may be experiencing dehydration is to

pinch the skin on the back of your hand. If the skin takes a little bit of time to bounce back, then that is a sign of dehydration -- healthy water levels should cause the skin to bounce back immediately.



Stress

Stress or tension headaches are among the most common types of headaches experienced. These headaches can often feel like a diffuse, tightening sensation around the head, neck and shoulders.

Common triggers for tension headaches include:

  • Emotional stress

  • Lack of sleep

  • Alcohol

  • Certain food sensitivities

  • Poor posture

  • Eye strain

These headaches are often non-responsive to general painkillers as the source of the trigger needs to be addressed. If left untreated, these headaches can become episodic and return as frequently as 15 times a month, last between 30 mins and 7 days and become more difficult to treat.


So what do I do now?

Headaches are as varied as it is common, and can certainly become a debilitating condition if left untreated. Often, if you find that your headaches are triggered by any of the factors discussed above -- there is help.


Physiotherapy is the most commonly used non-pharmaceutical treatment for headaches which can assist with the severity and frequency of your existing condition. Treatments including manual therapy and dry needling coupled with home exercise programs, will be tailored to your needs to get you back to the things you love.


Even the most severe headaches can potentially be permanently fixed with the right treatment, advice and exercises. There are no quick fixes however there is a solution.


We encourage you to treat yourself to a pain free life without barriers.



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