What causes the body to generate the most common forms of head pain? How can we begin to sort out which type we may be experiencing and promote healing? Headache pain is often classified by recognizing how and why the body is generating pain.
Might the pain be related to nerves or chemicals reacting in the body? Or, perhaps, a headache is the result of a disease or situation that the body has encountered. How can the average person begin to decipher the pain? Basic classification techniques often include a division of primary and secondary headaches.
Due to the infinite number of possible injuries, ailments, and diseases that one may encounter with one’s head, it can be rather difficult to concisely categorize all of the possible pain experiences. However, understanding the basics of primary and secondary headaches can help pain sufferers better navigate the road to healing.
A primary headache refers to pain that is not a symptom of a disease, injury, or incident. According to the Mayo Clinic, “A primary headache is caused by overactivity of or problems with pain-sensitive structures in your head. A primary headache isn’t a symptom of an underlying disease.” While the reason for the pain may not be readily understood, overactivity within the head region is the direct source of the pain.
On the other hand, a secondary headache is viewed as a side effect of a disease or seemingly unrelated factor. It is secondary to the initial cause of the pain. A secondary headache does not develop without the presence of a separate issue somewhere in the body.
Tumors, aneurysms, and sinus pain are all examples of secondary headaches. Hangovers and ice cream headaches are also considered secondary. The secondary headache can be solved by removing the tumor or sinus blockage, or perhaps by consuming particular items with care. Let’s consider how a few of the most common headaches are generated by the body.
Pain associated with certain headache types remains a part of the mystery of medical knowledge, but it is rapidly gaining understanding. As technology reveals more and more of how the nervous system and brain send messages throughout the body, headache pain continues to become better understood. Individuals who suffer from one type of primary headache may also experience at least one other type of headache.
Since primary headaches are not generally the result of a particular disease or ailment, narrowing the source of the pain can sometimes be tricky. An exact reason for pain suffered by a patient may not always be readily identifiable. Yet, we can still take meaningful steps to minimize and alleviate headache pain.
Tension, migraine, and cluster headaches rest at the top of most listings for common headache forms. While, ice pick, headaches are a bit less common, they are no less painful. Each of these is considered primary because they exist as the initial pain problem.
Tension Headaches are the most common form of headache. They may occur at any age. Tension headaches may be episodic (occurring less than 15 times in 30 days) or chronic (occurring 15 times or more in 30 days) in nature. Episodic tension headaches may last only 30 minutes or as long as a week. Chronic tension headaches may run the stretch of a few hours but are often continuous or reoccurring in nature.
Migraine Headaches remain the second most common form of headache. Migraine headaches can be as short as a few hours or as long as a few days. They are usually reoccurring in nature.
Cluster Headaches (also known as neurovascular headaches) are called this because they often happen one after another in a short period of time. This type of headache can last for a few minutes or as long as a few hours. While cluster headaches are not considered life threatening, they are known to be one of the most painful types of headaches.
Cluster headaches often awake the sufferer from sleep. Pain may center around one eye, radiating to other parts of the head and through the neck area. Intense pain will be focused on the same side of the head. The same eye may experience redness, stuffiness, excessive tearing of the duct, and may droop. Sensitivity to light may only be present on one side.
Ice Pick Headaches may rapidly end or last for several days. Occurrences may seem random and unrelated to anything that the sufferer is actively doing at the time. However, it feels like an ice pick has been shoved into the head or face.
We often find a higher number of possible causes for secondary headaches. Trauma, disease, dehydration, influenza, stroke, environment, and personal choices may all play a direct role in the occurrence of secondary headaches. There is such a wide variety of potential secondary causes – underlying medical conditions, high blood pressure, anxiety/depression/PTSD, stress, blood clots, etc.
Sinus Headaches are often listed with the top five commonly occurring headaches.
Sinus cavities are found inside of the forehead, cheekbones, and behind the bridge of the nose. This is where sinus pain and pressure are felt by sinus headache sufferers.
Cervicogenic Headaches are often difficult to distinguish from migraines. The difference is found in the source of the pain. This type of pain is caused by a cervical issue. It is considered referred pain. “The primary difference is that a migraine headache is rooted in the brain, and a cervicogenic headache is rooted in the cervical spine (neck) or base of the skull region.
Pain may last a few hours or more than a week. Considerations must be made for the reason for the pain. This type of headache will often come back until the source of the pain is resolved. Clinic HQ reads, “Many people find manipulative therapies such as Chiropractic, Osteopathy or Physiotherapy to be helpful in returning the neck, shoulder and upper back joints back to their healthy state.”
Thunderclap Headaches honor their name come on rapidly and may even take the sufferer by surprise. After about 60 seconds, a thunderclap will usually peak in its level of pain. Pain may occur anywhere in the head (and possibly in the back) and can last a few minutes or a whole week.
Do we just need a good meal, water, and some rest? There are times when this is just not going to be sufficient. Three or more headaches within the span of one week would easily justify the need for meaningful medical attention. However, all head pain sufferers deserve healing.
Note: The following symptoms are considered serious and require immediate medical attention:
When emergency related symptoms are not present but, a few basic steps may be found as beneficial. Try these options for headache relief:
We may often include many of these tasks in our regular activities. Consider each with a new light as you pursue what may be the best long-term course of action. Reviewing our overall health situation is always a good idea.
Better Health Chiropractic and Physical Rehab clinics welcome individuals seeking to solve the head pain puzzle. Chiropractic treatments work to facilitate nerve and brain health as well as promote a general wellness within the body.
Dr. Brent Wells has been a trusted chiropractor since moving his family from Oregon to Alaska back in 1998 and founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab – B.S. from Univ. of Nevada, Doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College, volunteer for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Foundation, and member of the American Chiropractic Association. As a chiropractor his focus is on family, including his 3 children and wife of 20+ years, his clinics, and ongoing education.