• Dr. Yako Merogi

I Have a headache

Headaches—what a pain! They can interrupt your day, make it difficult to work, stress you out and rob you of life’s simple pleasures.

Headaches are one of the most common ailments seen by doctors and often occur in otherwise healthy people.

Headaches and stress: It’s no secret that for many people, stress is a contributing factor in the development, frequency and severity of headaches and migraines. According to research, emotional stress is a common trigger of tension-type headaches and migraine, and can trigger other types of headaches or make them worse.

As we all know, in this time of COVID-19, we’re living in especially stressful times. We may be at our computers for long hours, have financial stresses, tension in our relationships, feel anxiety or depression, get too little exercise or otherwise not be living the healthiest of lifestyles. Unfortunately, COVID-19 stress is a perfect set up for headache pain.

While there are painkillers and other medications available to treat headaches, chiropractic care, physiotherapy, massage, Acupuncture and self-care can go a long way to prevent and treat headaches, whether they are simply annoying or debilitating, or anything in between.

Many headaches are associated with muscle tension in the neck. Today, we engage in more sedentary activities than in the past, and more hours are spent in one fixed position or posture (such as sitting in front of a computer). This can increase joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back and scalp, causing your head to ache.

What kind of headaches do you have?

We see all kinds of patients at our clinic who have different kinds of headaches. If the pain you experience is sudden, severe, or different than anything you have experienced before, it is always best to go to your primary physician or the ER to rule out an underlying illness or something that needs immediate attention.

For those experiencing regular headaches, what kind of headache do you have?

Tension headache

  • Mild to moderate intensity

  • Pressure or tightness

  • Non-pulsatin

  • “Band-like” pain

  • Lasts 30 minutes to 7 days

  • Often bilateral (both sides)

  • Not worse with exercise

  • No vomiting (but could have sensitivity to light)

  • May have nausea

  • Eye strain/fatigue (sometimes)

  • Neck pain (sometimes)

Migraine headache

  • Moderate to severe intensity

  • One-sided (possibly pulsating)

  • Lasts 4 to 72 hours

  • Aura (possible)

  • Nausea (possible vomiting)

  • Sensory symptoms (light, sound, smells, autonomic, emotional, cognitive)

  • Worse with exercises

  • Vertigo in 25% to 35%

  • 2-3X more common in women versus men

  • Neck pain (possible)

Cervicogenic headache

  • Mild to moderate intensity

  • Neck pain / stiffness

  • One or both sides

  • Begins posteriorly, migrates forward

  • Aggravated by sustained postures

  • Trigger points in head, neck, face

  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues (possible)

TMJ-related headache

  • Variable intensity

  • Local tenderness (possible general facial pain)

  • Trigger/tender points in masticatory (chewing) muscles

  • History of teeth grinding

  • Prior trauma (possible)

  • Stress

Sinus headache

  • Mild to moderate intensity

  • Pain behind browbone

  • Pain behind cheekbone

  • Achy feeling in upper teeth

  • Worsening pain if you bend forward or lie down

  • Stuffy nose

Cluster headache

  • Severe, strictly one-sided sharp pain that is orbital, supraorbital and/or temporal

  • Lasts 15 minutes to 2 hours

  • Occurs from once every other day to eight times a day

  • Pain can be accompanied by redness in the eye, tearing eye, nasal congestion, runny nose, forehead and facial sweating, miosis (pupil constriction), drooping eye and/or eyelid swelling, and possible restlessness or agitation

At BODY CURE SPORT and THERAPY, our approach is customized and collaborative, no matter the condition. Every patient we see is unique and, as we saw above, there are different kinds of headaches that manifest differently in each patient. That means that we assess your individual situation and then work with you to create a treatment plan that you are comfortable with that gives you the results you want.

Chiropractic care for headache relief

Research from the Canadian Chiropractic Association shows that spinal manipulation provided by chiropractic care can be an effective treatment option for tension headaches and headaches that originate in the neck. The treatment is effective in combating migraines and headaches because of its muscle-relieving properties. A chiropractic adjustment improves pain management and treats intense migraine as well. Your treatment might include manual therapy, soft tissue therapy, acupuncture, ultrasound, rehabilitation, lifestyle changes and education, and referral for physiotherapy or massage.

Physiotherapy for headache relief

Studies have found that physiotherapy can reduce intensity, duration and frequency of headaches. Physiotherapy can relieve chronic headaches in a number of ways. Rehabilitation exercises loosen, lengthen and relax the muscles of the neck can be highly effective at easing the spasms that set off tension headaches. You may also be given a program of exercises to do at home to prevent and treat headaches. At BODY CURE, physiotherapists may use suction cupping, Graston technique, acupuncture, soft tissue release, neurokinetic therapy or prescribe massage therapy, ultrasound, or make lifestyle recommendations.

Massage therapy for headache relief

There have been hundreds of studies all over the world that prove that massage therapy decreases headaches. Studies, such as one published in the American Journal of Public Health, found headache frequency was significantly reduced with massag

e therapy and that massage therapy has the potential to reduce and has the potential to be a functional, nonpharmacological intervention for reducing the incidence of chronic tension headache.

Massage to treat chronic conditions like headache and migraine may need a more frequent visit to a massage therapist or chiropractor. Twice a week treatment for the first 4 to 6 weeks may be a good starting point. Once the condition is under control and you are experiencing fewer and/or less severe headaches, a maintenance program is developed.

Check out my blog on massage therapy and how to find a good therapist here.

Lifestyle tips for managing headaches

Here are some things you can do on your own to reduce stress which in turn can reduce the frequency and duration of headaches. Don’t underestimate the importance of self-care!

  • Move and stretch. Check out my video here on how to incorporate breaks and movement into your day-to-day routine, I also offer some easy stretches you can do when you take a quick break from work. They will leave you refreshed and feeling good.

  • Be prepared. Organize your day. Anticipate challenges. Especially when you are just beginning to get treatment for your headaches, try to keep your plan flexible, in case a headache strikes and you need to change course.

  • Simplify your life. It's OK to say no. Many of us have a “busy” habit, squeezing as much as we can out of each day. Ask yourself what really needs to be done and what can wait and what you need not do.

  • Watch your posture. Slouching at the computer or staring down at your phone can strain your neck, which can in turn head to headaches. With so many of us working at the computer all day, it’s important to not only take breaks, but maintain good posture. I wrote about this here.

  • Exercise regularly. Exercise is a proven way to prevent — and sometimes treat — headaches. Exercise also provides a break from the stress of daily life. Be sure to warm up slowly because sudden, intense exercise can actually cause headaches in some people.

  • Eat smart. A diet of adequate protein and rich in fruits and vegetables can help keep stress under control.

  • Keep a diary. Some foods and drinks are known to trigger headaches and migraines, for example, chocolate, wine, alcohol, coffee and cheeses. Keep track of what you eat (and other possible contributing factors, like stress and sleep), to see what might be triggering your headaches or migraines.

  • Get adequate sleep. Stress can interfere with sleep, and lack of sleep can make stress harder to handle! To promote sleep, try putting electronics away before bed, get adequate exercise (see above) and do meditation and deep breathing before bed.

  • Let go. Try not to worry about things you can't control.

  • Change the pace. Break away from your routine and try something new. A vacation (even if it’s in your own city or province) or weekend away may help you develop a new outlook and relieve tension and stress.

  • Break bad habits. If you smoke, you know what to do — quit! Smoking has been linked to headaches. Cut down on caffeine, too, and if you drink alcohol, don't overdo.

  • Take a break. If you feel overwhelmed, take some time to clear your mind. A few slow stretches or a brisk walk may renew your energy for the task at hand. Or take a mental vacation by imagining yourself in one of your favourite calm, relaxing places.

Get treatment for your headaches in Woodbridge, Ontario, and the Greater Toronto Area

If headaches are adding to your stress and affecting your work or your daily life, we at BODY CURE Sport & Therapy can help. The team here knows how important it is for you to be pain-free and healthy, and enjoy every day. If you would like to learn more about how we can help you achieve your optimal health, please get in touch here. The world is stressful enough — you don’t need headache pain to add to your suffering. Instead, take the time to take care of yourself and set up a treatment program.

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