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Types of Headaches and How to Prevent Them

Headaches are an unfortunate part of life for many people. They know no race or gender, and no matter who you are or how healthy you are, you’re at risk of having them. Some people experience headaches quite frequently, and others very rarely have one. However, if you’re getting headaches regularly, it’s worth your time to find out why and what you can do about it. 

Did you know there are different types of headaches and different causes and treatments for each? Let’s take a look, so you can start to determine what’s the best plan of care for you.

 

Tension headaches 

This type is prevalent and it’s likely that you’ve experienced this at one point or another. Tension headaches are often described as a dull pain throughout the head, generally located at the forehead, behind the eyes, at the base of the neck, and even in the jaws and cheeks. They usually last from 30 minutes to several hours and shouldn’t affect daily life too much, although you may need to make some adjustments. Tension headaches are often attributed to decreased blood flow to the head due to increased muscular tension and restriction through the neck, head, face, and jaw; usually triggered by stress, anxiety, dehydration, lack of movement, poor sleep, and abnormal sleep posture, and eye strain. Some gentle to moderate pressure massage along with stretching and mobilizations will often ease the tension and give you relief. If you can’t get in for a massage, you can massage the muscles of your neck, shoulders, and face yourself or have a friend or family member help. In addition, light exercise and stretching can help improve blood flow to the head and neck, and over-the-counter pain medications and anti-inflammatory can provide relief for some. If you’re experiencing tension headaches often, regular massage sessions can help decrease the frequency.

 

Migraines 

Many claim to experience frequent migraines, but these are often confused with severe tension headaches. The differentiating factor is the presence or lack of neurological symptoms. While tension headaches, especially when severe, can be debilitating and very painful, they come without the neurological symptoms associated with a migraine. A migraine not only causes severe pain in the head, neck, and face but is often accompanied by an abnormal sensitivity to light, sound, and smell, along with nausea and vomiting. About a third of migraine sufferers experience an aura (visual and sensory disturbance) prior to an incident, lasting anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes. Auras include seeing zig-zag lines, flickering lights, spots, or partial loss of vision. Migraines can last a few hours to a few days and can be quite debilitating. Triggers of a migraine can span from stress, dehydration, sleep disruption, hormone imbalances, and even certain foods. Some find relief with over-the-counter medications, while others may require prescription-level drugs. For many, a dark, quiet room and a few hours of sleep is often the only way to find relief. If you’re having frequent migraines, a visit with your doctor may be necessary. While regular massages decrease the frequency of migraines, a massage to the head and neck isn't the best course of action while you’re in the midst of one. Instead, if you want to get a massage while you have an active migraine, the massage will be focused on your legs, feet, arms, and hands to counter the abnormal blood flow causing the migraine. 

 

Cluster Headaches 

This type, by definition, is severe, recurrent headaches that are experienced as an intense burning or piercing pain on one side of the head and behind or around one eye. Other symptoms associated with cluster headaches are eyes watering, swollen eyelids, runny nose, and restlessness or agitation. There is generally no warning, and it may feel like the headache attacks out of nowhere, peaks within 10-15 minutes, and then is gone within 2-3 hours. Unlike several other types of headaches, cluster headaches are the only one that is far more prevalent in men than in women. These attacks occur quickly and in clusters, anywhere from 3-8 times a day over several weeks. The causes of cluster headaches are unclear; however, they seem to be triggered by smoking, alcohol consumption, strong smells and can be linked to a genetic predisposition or previous head trauma. Over-the-counter and prescription medications are often the go-to treatment, but regular massage may also help prevent the frequency of these attacks.  

 

Exertional Headaches 

These headache triggers are sudden, strenuous physical exercise like running, jumping, weightlifting, and even sudden severe bouts of coughing or sneezing. These are generally over as quickly as they come on. However, they can last for several hours or even a few days at times. Exertional headaches are felt as a throbbing pain through the head and present in those with a family history of migraines. These headaches are most commonly extinguished with rest, over-the-counter medications, and massage. However, taking plenty of time to warm up before exercise can help to prevent them.  

 

Sinus Headaches 

This type of headache is common and occurs due to inflammation of the sinus cavities of the head. The pain is often felt in the forehead, around and behind the eyes, and along the cheeks. Because of the location of the pain, many people may confuse tension and sinus headaches, but they are quite different. Specifically, sinus headaches will often be accompanied by congestion or a runny nose, along with tenderness over the sinus cavities, just above and below the eyes. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories are a common treatment, as are massage therapy and steam treatments. However, if a sinus headache persists, especially with congestion and significant tenderness, you may need to see your doctor to rule out an infection or other condition. 

 

Cervicogenic Headaches 

This term encompasses any headache caused by an abnormality within the neck. This is frequently due to ligament laxity or misalignment of the cervical (neck) vertebrae, causing pressure on the nerves and blood vessels that travel to the head. These are often felt along one side of the head and follow a pretty distinct pattern from the base of the skull, wrapping over the top of the head, and ending just above or behind the eye. These seem to be more common in those who have a history of whiplash or other neck injuries and are often triggered by abnormal posture. Massage and retraction exercises can allow the vertebrae's proper movement, reduce the pressure on those nerves and blood vessels, and alleviate the pain. 

 

Whether you deal with one of these types of headaches regularly or find yourself needing relief in the midst of them, I'm here to bring you comfort and relief.

 

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4 Tips to Ease Neck Pain

Neck pain is a very common complaint for most people, and there’s a variety of things that can cause it. For example, you may have just slept in an awkward position and tried to turn your head a certain way only to feel some pretty sharp pain; then, you’re stuck walking around all day, barely able to turn to the side. 

You may have been hunched over at your desk all day, or done some exercise that didn’t quite agree with you. Whatever the cause, it’s no fun. Of course, a massage session will most definitely help, but there are some things you can do in the meantime to ease that pain. 

 

#1 Stretching

Neck pain is frequently the result of tension within the muscles. When the muscles are tight, they bear down on blood vessels, decreasing blood flow to areas, resulting in even more pain, like those nasty tension headaches that can come along for a ride. Stretching can help loosen that tension and improve blood flow, overall decreasing your pain levels. Slowly tilt your head forward, back, and side to side, until you feel a good stretch in each position. Hold it for several seconds and breathe deep. Release and keep moving through the motions and stretching. Listen to your body and find the places where the stretch really seems to be the most effective.

 

#2 Heat & Cold Therapy

Heat can help to improve blood flow and relax the muscles, while applying cold can decrease inflammation. You can use whatever feels right, but alternating between the two will often help even more. Apply your heating pad for 5 minutes, then a cold pack for 2 or 3 minutes. One round may be all you need for very mild symptoms, but if the pain is persistent, keep alternating between the two for up to 20 minutes, ending with cold to make sure any inflammation is taken care of.

 

#3 Self-massage

You can use your fingertips, knuckles, self-massage tools, or even just a tennis or golf ball; anything that will provide direct pressure into the muscles. Start gently working throughout the neck and shoulders to warm up the tissues, and slowly work into deeper pressure as it feels right. Don’t be afraid of slight discomfort as you work out sore areas, but stop if you experience any sharp pains.

 

#4 Try a different pillow

If you’re experiencing neck pain frequently, try switching up your pillow to see if it may be the cause. No one size fits all here. Instead, you need to find what works best for your body. And don’t forget that those pillows need fluffed and replaced regularly to keep the proper support.

 

Of course, you can always come get a massage when you’ve got any pain like this, but I know that’s not always possible, and I still want you to feel amazing as much as you can. So, use these tips the next time your neck starts bothering you, and maintain a regular schedule of massages to keep you feeling great too!