Struggling with headaches?

Date Published: 
May 23, 2014

If you’re struggling with headaches, you’re not alone. The real question is who hasn’t had a headache? The painful answer is they are all too common. The National Headache Foundation says that more than 45 million Americans suffer from more than just an occasional headache. They’re dealing with recurring, chronic headaches every year.

That translates to 50 percent of all adults, with women affected more often than men. Kids and adolescents don’t fare much better, with 20 percent of them struggling with headaches on an annual basis.

I’m pretty confident virtually everyone you know has had his or her share of headaches, but why? And can you prevent them? Dealing with headaches means you have to understand what causes them and what you should do to get relief.

The most important first step is determining what’s causing your headaches. There can be very serious causes, and that is why it is important not to ignore a headache that keeps coming back or won’t go away. If you have ongoing headaches, you need to see a doctor immediately and get a proper diagnosis.

Expect your doctor to ask you a number of questions to understand your history and to perform a physical exam. Your doctor may also order some blood work to rule out other potential underlying problems. Some doctors also prefer to order a CT scan or MRI.

Your doctor may tell you that you are suffering from a tension headache, which is one of the most common of the more than 150 different types of headaches. It can be a once-in-a-while experience or it can be a chronic, daily problem.

Often, a tension headache develops during the day, but those that linger usually get worse during the evening, with the pain varying from mild to severe. The more frequent the tension headache, the more severe the pain. Symptoms usually begin in the top part of the neck, radiate up into the head, and wrap around to the temple and eye area. Some people say they feel like they have a tight band around their head. One thing most people agree on is that a tension headache causes constant, pressure-like pain.

Some of the common causes of tension headaches, including chronic stress, poor sitting posture, prolonged sitting at a computer, a sedentary desk job and driving behavior, involve disruption of proper muscle function in the head and neck. They cause muscle length restrictions, which means the muscles in the head and neck contract. The result is a tension headache.

Once your medical professional has determined that you suffer from tension headaches, your doctor will provide you with a customized treatment plan that may include a prescription for physical therapy. The physical therapist will work to alleviate both the immediate problem and provide an approach for the long term.

The immediate treatment approach will likely consist of a program designed to restore contracted muscles to their normal length, strengthening them to allow continued proper function, mobilizing stiffened spinal joints caused by your contracting muscles, and improving posture to stop the headache cycle.

In addition, an overall strengthening and endurance program with exercises will be created to complete the multi-faceted treatment approach. Ultimately, the key to a successful treatment plan is a home program to assure you stay headache free in the long term.

If I can leave you with one thought, it’s that you should not wait to get help. It’s better to get help when you first start experiencing a problem and avoid unnecessary suffering and complications.

Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be reached by calling (302) 537-7260.