The World Health Organisation has a classification system which defines over 270 different types of headaches and migraines. Over 270! This is one of the longest lists of differential diagnosis in medicine. To make it even more complicated, each one of these headache types have a different set of treatment regimes that are recommended for our poor headache and migraine sufferers. No wonder we, as a medical body are struggling to diagnose and treat successfully the estimated 65% of all people that suffer from recurrent headache or migraine.
I don’t believe that there are over 270 different causes of why people get headaches. My experience in successfully treating many, many headache and migraine sufferers has demonstrated to me that by treating the upper neck area we can significantly improve the sufferer’s quality of life in a wide variety of cases.
Let me outline some anatomy and physiology that might help to explain why this is so.
We have an area at the base of our brain called the brainstem in which every signal from our body passes through. There are over 20,000,000 nerve signals that travel from the neck, head and face every minute to the brainstem. Most of this is normal stimulus which is processed here and then disregarded.
Our nervous system has a threshold of how much stress can go through it before it triggers a pain response. Normally this threshold is set well above the usual nerve signals sent regularly from our body. However, when there is an ongoing or constant pain signal coming from the neck, the nerve centres in the brainstem can become sensitised. This means that while the frequency and intensity of incoming nerve signals remain exactly the same, the threshold of what is perceived as harmful is much less, so pain is triggered from a smaller stimulus.
Have you ever wondered why some people can enjoy a glass of red without developing a nasty headache (besides the one we occasionally get from over indulging!), while some people are guaranteed to wake the next morning with a splitting migraine after half a glass of the same wine? Or why you get a headache every monthly cycle, but your girlfriend never does? Same input (red wine or hormonal changes), different response. It appears that this may be due to the nervous system being sensitised and over responsive.
Why a headache? Simply put, when the neural system is compromised from trauma or adverse stress, the brain loses the ability to tell where that pain is coming from and thus will sometimes express the signal as headache.
Research shows us that the brainstem is hypersensitive in many different people who suffer from many different forms of headache and migraine. It has also demonstrated that treatment from specially trained physiotherapists can desensitise the brainstem, thus treating the underlying cause of many headaches. If you suffer from headache or migraine, there is a possibility that your neck is a major contributing factor to them.
Don’t continue to put up with having your life put on hold every time you get a headache like I used to do. Get your neck checked and see if things can change.