So many people believe headaches are normal. We’re sorry to inform you, but headaches, of any kind, are not normal and you don’t have to “put up with them” or “cover them” with pain pills. Even though there are many types of headaches, this article will focus on how to catch and stop a tension headache.
You really aren’t feeling it today – work seems to just be multiplying by the minute. Your boss is asking questions that you’re just not 100% sure the answers to. And don’t even get me started on the commute this morning! Does it surprise you at all that you’re in the middle of a headache?
Types of Headaches
When focusing on how to catch and stop tension headaches, it’s important to know how they typically feel.
When looking at the chart below, you’ll see clearly several types of headaches separated into different categories. It’s important to know that headaches are not all created equally. So knowing the signs and symptoms of common headaches in comparison to what you’re currently experiencing can help with getting proper treatment with stopping them.
Common headaches include headaches stemming from the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), basically where the jaw connects with the skull, sinus, cluster, tension, migraine and then headaches related to the muscles, bones, and ligamentous structures in the neck (cervicogenic headaches).
Since we’re spending a bit of time talking about how to catch and stop tension headaches, we should talk about the fact that tension headaches are common. They typically are known to feel like a tight band wrapped around your head, from the front all around to the base of the skull, the occipital area. This band seems to be putting pressure on the head and feels like it’s squeezing the head from the outside in.
Just think of how it feels to wear a baseball hat that is too small for your head. This hat keeps squeezing too tightly and if you don’t take it off, eventually, you’re going to feel tension, stress, basically really uncomfortable!
Underlying Cause of Tension Headaches
Tension is just a nice way to say stress. And we’re fortunate to have bodies that utilize a stress response as a way to protect itself. Even if we have a high-stress tolerance, our bodies do a great job taking the responsibility of dealing with our stress.
Causes of Stress
The best way to stop tension headaches is to analyze your behavior. If you deal with stress in an unhealthy way, it can transition to tension headaches. Here are some common causes that may be triggering your tension headaches.
- Tension in the muscles of the face, jaw, and neck (clenching the muscles)
- Spinal misalignments, primarily of the neck and upper back
- TMJ disorder – you’ll notice your jaw clicking or popping
- Arthritis of the neck
- Depression and anxiety
- Lack of sleep
- Stress itself
- Text neck
- Bad posture – desk work, sitting in the car or on our couch
Why Does Seeing My Chiropractor Help?
We commonly see tension headaches are a reason for people to seek chiropractic care. But how do people get tension headaches from their spine, when tension headaches are related to stress?
Stress doesn’t mean just emotional, mental or environmental. Stress can be related to the postures we’re in every day. Our bodies take on gravity 100% of our lives, so it makes sense that gravity impacts the spine as well.
What are the Bones Doing?
A misaligned vertebrae (spinal bone) irritates the spinal nerve that exits from that area. These nerves send “warning signals” to the muscles of the neck that are irritated.
Once these muscles receive this warning signal, they tighten up. The muscles may even spasm in order to protect the misaligned bone.
The irritated nerves also send signals to the muscles of the scalp and head – which again, respond this time by tightening up.
The reaction here is basically creating a chain reaction of a muscle spasm around the head.
The pesky tension headache!
How Can I Stop My Headache?
There are plenty of steps you can take in order to combat tension headaches. The below recommendations are home remedies that are recommended by Mayo Clinic.
- Eat healthy foods (+ don’t skip breakfast)
- Drink enough water!
- Exercise regularly (at least a bit of daily activity 10-20 minutes of aerobic walking can have a major impact on your day)
- Get enough sleep
- Avoid excess caffeine (400mg+/day aka 4 cups of regular coffee, 2 of the 2oz 5 hour energy drinks, or 2 energy drinks in general, can trigger headaches and irritability)
- Quit smoking – nicotine reduces blood flow to the brain and can trigger the reaction of nerves at the back of the throat leading to a headache
- Monitor stress
- Heat or ice shoulder and neck muscles
- Massage temples, scalp, neck and shoulders with fingertips
- Unclench your jaw
- This one is ours… but schedule your next chiropractic appointment!
Why is Hydration Important?
With more than 600 people dying from extreme heat every year, it’s important to know the keys to dehydration! Staying hydrated can be as easy. Choosing foods and beverages that keep you replenished during these hot, humid days are what will keep you from heat-related illnesses. Chronic dehydration can even lead to an increased risk of kidney stones! No thank you!
So since most of us are fortunate to have access to water, heat-related deaths and illnesses are easily preventable, as long as you keep informed!
But… It’s Minnesota!
Even though our winters are well known to break those record lows, summer brings about breaking record highs!
However, some of us truly enjoy the warm breaks and summertime in Minnesota means taking FULL advantage of the sunshine! And embracing the heat, while it’s here!
We’re known to enjoy so many activities – boating, swimming, hiking, running, powerwalking, gardening, grilling out… just to name a few.
As the Heat Rises, Do We Drink Enough Water?
Drinking enough fluids is one of the most important ways to prevent heat illness. But is water enough?
Taking measures to stay cool, keep hydrated and be informed will help to prevent heat illnesses.
High humidity weather means the sweat doesn’t evaporate as quickly… keeping your body from releasing heat as fast as it needs to.
What Factors Affects Our Hydration
Basically, your body needs to have the ability to cool itself!
Never be embarrassed by sweating – often we get apologies in our office for sweating.
Sweating is natural and good – we want our bodies to filter out and get rid of the toxins in our body!
How Much Do I Drink?
We get water daily from our foods, of course, the plain water, and other beverages we drink.
But how much should you be drinking? Average American has heard it’s 8 fluid oz/day, about 2 liters of water. But that’s a regular day!
It doesn’t include the high humidity or other factors that can influence hydration status…
- Age (kiddos to elderly)
- Heart disease
- Mental illnesses
- Poor circulation
- ** Prescription drugs
- ** Alcohol
The CDC even recommends if you work outside or are outside, drink 1 cup every 15-20 minutes.
This is about 1 quart which = 1/4 gallon = 1 L *
And keep in mind… by the time you feel thirsty, you are already behind in fluid replacement.
Water is plenty! As long as you eat regular meals to replace salt lost when sweating, you can drink as much water as you’d like!
Feel free to add a few pieces of Himalayan sea salt to your water to help replace electrolytes that you lose (definitely if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding!)
What to Avoid
Energy Drinks/High Caffeine
- Contains more caffeine than standard coffee, tea or soft drinks
- Drinking several / day can put excessive strain on your heart
- Even more with an increase in body heat!
- Can cause dehydration
- Drinking within 24 hours of working in the heat can increase the risk of heat illnesses
What Else Can Prevent Heat Illnesses?
Follow These Additional Recommendations
- Stay inside as much as you can
- Drink fluids – even when you’re not thirsty
- Be mindful of what you’re doing outside
- Dress smartly
- Light colors, loose clothes
- Take cool showers/baths
- Check on your loved ones!
- NEVER leave kids and pets in cars
- Let your pets walk on the grass… pavement gets HOT
Exercise is Good!
Running is regularly great for your health and has so many benefits.
In fact, over 60 million people participated in running in the United States last year! With even more people reporting as active walkers.
Benefits of Running
- Reduces stress
- Boosts your metabolism
- Improves cardiovascular health
- They can even alleviate symptoms of depression!
We are naturally born to learn how to walk, run, skip and jump.
But … Why the Common Running Injuries?
Why is it, then, that we often see runners in pain or having issues?
If it were so good for you or you’re “naturally” made to run.. then why do people end up with runner’s knee? With Achilles tendonitis? With IT band syndrome? Shin splints? Hamstring strains? Plantar fasciitis? Stress fractures?
Problems stem from not having proper form when running.
When the muscles may be overcompensating, or our framework (skeletal system) isn’t properly aligned.
Running ends up not being efficient or balanced. When a pain comes up, most people continue to run and fight through symptoms.
No Pain, No Gain?
Often, the answer is no.
Many of these common running injuries can actually stem from a lack of motion in your spine and pelvis.
So – we’ve got our pelvis, vertebrae (bones in the neck and back) and tehn the skull.
When there are areas where the vertebrae are no longer moving like they should, they are in dysfunction, distortion, misalignment, or what we call subluxation. Now the surrounding tissues and joints have to pick up the slack!
This means certain muscles, ligaments, tendons and fascia are overstressed while others are under-utilized.
When We Lack Balance
When we have this lack of balance, there is an asymmetrical distribution of forces in the body. Each step puts excess strain and mechanical load on certain tissues that can no longer adapt as efficiently as they’re meant to.
In the case of runners, who average 85 steps per minute per foot, these imbalances and strains can add up, and if not addressed can lead to chronic injury over time.
Does This Have to be My Future?
No! You have a choice! If you want to keep running, you need to make sure not only are you using proper running form, shoes and strides, but you’re also being proactive.
As chiropractors, we approach the body looking to restore and maintain balance and health, not just in a local sense, but in a global sense.
Correcting these spinal problems and restoring proper function at the core, and allowing the body to restore it’s normal patterns and function at its best.
Whether you’re a competitive athlete, a weekend warrior, or you just want to run around the block with your dog, chiropractic can help guide you back toward resilience!
It can help to optimize your level of health and function, and get you back up to doing what you love, pain free!