Guest Coauthor: Alexa Rzucidlo, SPT2
Alexa is a second year doctor of physical therapy student at Temple University (2019). She grew up locally in Factoryville, PA. She graduated from Lackawanna Trail High School and Temple University for her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology. Alexa plans to continue her clinical experience at Grand Junction VA in Colorado.
According to the World Health Organization about half of the world’s adult population has had a headache at least once in the past year. For many people, these headaches are infrequent and do not often affect daily life. But what about when your headache occurs frequently or is so severe it prevents you from going about your day to day activities? Some types of headaches are more easily treated and managed than others.
There are two types of headaches: primary and secondary. Primary headaches occur without an underlying disease and include migraines and tension-type headaches. Secondary headaches can be associated with serious disease, requiring emergency care, or can be referred from other structures of the body such as the cervical spine (neck).
Headaches symptoms that may constitute a medical emergency are: vomiting, seizures, fever, muscle pain, night sweat, weight loss, and neurologic symptoms such as blurred vision. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, if your headache worsens, or your symptoms change it is recommended that you seek medical attention. Any headache that is unusual for you and does not resolve itself in a reasonable time, should be brought to your primary care physician’s attention.
Migraines: Migraines are a primary form of headache that typically lasts from four to seventy two hours, can range from moderate to severe pain, and typically are located on only one side of the head. Often they can be accompanied by an aura, nausea or vomiting, sensitivity to sound, or light sensitivity. Migraines can be aggravated by routine physical activity such as going up stairs. This type of headache is thought to occur in the central nervous system and is related to blood vessels.
Tension-type: Tension-type headaches are the most common primary headache disorder and can last anywhere from thirty minutes to seven days. These headaches can often have a pressing or tightening quality that occurs on both sides of the head. Usually there is no nausea, vomiting, light sensitivity, or aggravation with physical activity. This type of headache is thought to occur in the central nervous system but can have a hereditary component and is usually associated with muscle tender points. Tension – type headaches can be treated with relaxation techniques such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), medications, and physical therapy.
The most common secondary headache that is not related to a serious medical condition is a cervicogenic headache (originating from the neck).
Cervicogenic Headache: The length of time a cervicogenic headache can last varies. Usually, the pain is on one side and usually starts in the neck. This type of headache is aggravated or preceded by head postures or movements of the neck. Due to the nerves of the neck and face sharing common connections, pain signals sent from one region can lead to discomfort in the other. Physical therapy can be an effective treatment to help relieve symptoms. For example: posture, exercise, ergonomics, massage, manual techniques, traction, trigger point, and acupressure.
A cervicogenic headache can be caused by an accident or trauma or can stem from neck movement or sustained postures. Sustained postures could mean sitting in front of a computer at work or looking down at your phone. Changing these postures throughout the day could help reduce symptoms. Changing postures could mean bringing your phone closer to you using pillows or another supportive surface when checking social media. If you are someone who works at a desk, it could involve taking breaks or getting a standing desk. However your life requires you to move, there are some simple and effective exercises you can perform throughout the day to help cervicogenic headache symptoms.
Models: Danielle Higgins and Zach Brandt
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.
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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine (formerly The Commonwealth Medical College).