Head Pain

Boise Peak Chiropractic

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What is Common Head Pain?

Can upper cervical adjustments help head pain?

The key to finding the right solution for head pain is in getting the right diagnosis. It is because there are so many causes of head pain, and yet so many of the treatments are simply directed at managing the symptoms.

It’s cheap and easy to zip to the chemist to grab some painkillers, which might help. But is that something you really want to do for the rest of your life?

Or do you want to address the cause of your head pain? And ideally, Do you want to find a natural solution - something that actually works, and that doesn’t require medication or surgery?

If you have gone down the common routes, you’ve probably Googled for things a “Brisbane head pain specialist” or “head pain treatment.” Maybe you have already tried a few things too, but haven’t really found anything that resonates with you.

If so, I want to share with you some valuable information that may be able to help you find a natural solution for your head pain problems. It’s not medication. It’s not physiotherapy or general chiropractic. It’s something called Upper Cervical Care that looks at the relationship between the alignment of the top bones in your neck - the atlas (C1 vertebrae) and the axis (C2 vertebrae) - and how they can affect the health of your brain and body, leading to problems such as head pain.

How to “Read” Common Head Pain

How to identify it


First, we want to identify what “flavor” of head pain you are experiencing. There are many potential types of pain, and in order to find the best long term solution, there are a few patterns that we want to help you identify.

Timing - Do you experience head pain at the beginning of the day? At the end of the day? When you sleep? Or only when you do specific activities? Things like your workstation, your pillow and stress can all be contributing factors for why you experience head pain. However, they are seldom the underlying cause in the first place. So you can buy all the supplements, buy all the pillows, and buy the fanciest-schmanciest computer desk and chair … but if there’s an underlying cause in your neck, it won’t make any difference. The reason that the timing matters is because of the position that you move your head and neck. THAT might be the actual key to figuring out what is going on.

Location - Where do you experience the head pain? It doesn’t always tell you where the original problem is coming from, but it does give an important hint what part of your body is bearing the brunt of the problem:

Head pain behind your eyes - Often attributed to the sinuses, it is a sensory patch associated with the C1 nerve

Head pain along your temples - This one is usually TMJ or jaw-related … and your jaw is strongly affected by the C2 vertebra especially

Head pain around your forehead or across the back of your neck - The so-called “tension headache” is often irritation of the C2 nerve root

Head pain across the back of your skull - Suboccipital pain or suboccipital neuralgia is often treated as being a C1 problem … but the nerves that supply this area of your head actually come from C2 and C3

Head pain in your eye, teeth or tongue - Usually this is the trigeminal nerve and can be due to local tooth or sinus infections, but it can also be related to trigeminal neuralgia which is often associated with a counter-rotation problem between the C1 and C2 vertebrae in your neck

Head pain inside your skull - Likely a variation of a migraine, which is attributed to irritation of the blood vessels inside your head. The connective tissue that contains these blood vessels physically anchors to the inside of your C1 and C2 vertebrae also.


What can cause Head Pain

Physical problem involving irritation

You may have noticed in the previous section that we weren’t talking about chemical or stress problems. We were talking about head pain as a physical problem involving irritation of the nervous system.

So does it make sense to treat a physical problem with a chemical remedy (e.g., pain killers)? No, it does not. If you have a pebble in your shoe, causing irritation, the cure is not teaching your meditation or fixing your diet … it’s getting rid of the pebble!

Now, you can’t exactly take physical things out of your neck if that is the problem. I say it all the time that unless you have a “cure” for gravity, time and the continual stresses of daily life, it’s exceptionally rare that you can just wave a magic wand and “poof” all your head pain is gone forever. 

However, by identifying the cause of your head pain, it can be much easier to manage with less pain, fewer episodes, and fewer interruptions in doing the things in life you would much rather be doing: e.g., spending time with your spouse, your children, your family or your friends; enjoying exercise like golf, gym, running or football; getting things done in your business; traveling, etc.

What to do about Head Pain Problems

Determine what is going on

If you are like most people we know, you’ve probably tolerated head pain for a long time until it’s filly gotten to the point where you can’t ignore it anymore.

Many of the people that we see in our Boise Peack upper cervical practice have already been to multiple practitioners, who have not been able to find a solution. So the first thing that we do is perform a series of tests to determine what is going on, and what we can do differently so that we can get a different outcome: that it, you feeling well!

In our experience, the majority of head pain problems are not dangerous. No one has ever died from a headache, but it can certainly make your life miserable. Nevertheless - and depending on the type of head pain that you are experiencing - it is important to get some kind of test performed.

First up is a basic examination just to make sure that things like your blood pressure, blood sugar, etc aren’t the underlying cause of your head pain
If you have suffered a new injury like a concussion or re-experiencing nasty neurological symptoms that you’ve never had before, a CT scan or an MRI is essential.

When those results come back as normal, an examination of your neck using specialised 3D x-ray views will often shed further light on the situation
Certain kinds of blood tests may also help … but be careful not to confuse “cause and effect” based on the results of those blood tests. Even if something shows up as abnormal, never forget to ask why the tests are abnormal instead of simply taking a supplement or medication that will only treat the symptoms.

Most common reasons Adults have Head Pain Problems

The nerves that exit the upper part of your neck

As we said before, in our experience the majority of head pain problems that we see in our Brisbane upper cervical practice are the result of a physical injury involving the neck. 

It’s no the kind of thing where you have a broken or dislocated neck, but if you suffered some type of injury in the past that you never treated (because you “felt fine”) it can produce a specific type of misalignment known as a subluxation that your body just can’t quite resolve on its own.

If so, this type of misalignment in your neck will do two things:

It may cause physical changes in the way that your vertebrae move, potentially leading to degenerative arthritis. Now, your body is not weak. So this breakdown will not occur all at once but will happen over months, years, or decades. People often attribute the pain and discomfort to “getting older,” but that is rarely the case. Instead, the aches and pains that start to creep in are more likely the results of unresolved injuries.
It may affect the function of your nervous system.

The nerves that exit the upper part of your neck - the C1, C2, and C3 nerves - are the ones that supply the sensory part of your head and face. Therefore, a mechanical irritation - like a pebble in your shoe - can be the source of the pain.
I’ve always found it bizarre when people who experience chronic low back pain or sciatica feel that they need surgery to fix the problem … but the same mechanism of pain - i.e., head pain and radiating nerve pain into the head, face, and neck - is attributed to “just a headache.” No! It’s a sign that something bad is affecting your brain!

Most common reasons Children have Head Pain Problems

“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

Children are not exempt from head pain either. But I must emphasize this: head pain in an adult is abnormal, and head pain in a child is even more abnormal!

Consider all the potential injuries that a child can experience that may cause misalignment of any of the bones in their neck: falling down when learning to walk, smacking their heads when learning to skate, ride a bike or playing around outside … this list is endless! 

Even a fall directly on the tailbone can produce a whiplash effect that causes the head to snap back, potentially misaligning the bones in the top of the neck.

To me, the entire idea to medicate a child who has head pain is crazy! Head pain happens for a reason, and because children are still in the process where their bodies are growing up, it is even more important that they are able to grow up free of nerve interference!

There are three types of nerves in the spinal cord in the neck: 
Autonomic nerves which control the body’s vital life functions including blood flow, the immune system, heart, lung, and digestive functions Motor nerves which control your muscles and ability to move Sensory nerves which provide your brain feedback about what’s going on with the entire system.

Here’s the thing that many parents don’t realize. Only the sensory nerves - 1/3 of the total supply - have the capacity to produce pain or physical symptoms. Two-thirds of the nerve-types in the neck do not carry any messages for pain.

So just because a child does not immediately describe pain after an injury does not always mean that everything is “fine.” That is the problem that so many of us get into later in life, believing that our head pain is something new when really, it’s from a very old injury … likely something that originated when we were still children. 

“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”

So we repeat: head pain is never normal, but especially so in children.

Diagnostic for Head Pain Problems

The process starts with the types of diagnostic


So if you or a loved one are experiencing head pain, you may be wondering what you can do. As we mentioned earlier, you have probably Google searched for a “Brisbane head pain specialist,” and you’ve probably come across pain management or migraine clinic.

But you know that you don’t want to just “manage” the pain with medication … so here you are!

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned the unique form of healthcare that we provide known as Upper Cervical Care. Here’s what it is.

Upper cervical is a division of chiropractic developed in the US that requires post-doctoral certification. Unlike general chiropractic or spinal manipulation that is commonly practiced in Australia, there is zero spinal manipulation, twisting or cracking of the neck. In other words, what we do is exceptionally different from what most people think of a “chiropractic.”

The process starts with the types of diagnostic tests that we perform that are different from what you may have had done before in a medical, physiotherapy, or other chiropractic practice. The first thing that we do is perform a series of neurological tests including paraspinal computerized thermography in order to establish your baseline reading. In fact, we perform this particular test on every office visit as a way of measuring and monitoring your progress.

The second thing that we do is a series of structural and motion tests to determine where the physical stress is showing up in your body. Your posture actually has nothing to do with laziness, but is a reflection of what is going on beneath the surface. And then to identify exactly what “that something beneath the surface” is, we have our own specialised x-ray equipment on-site so that we can take a series of customised x-rays, which help us to see where in your neck the problem actually is.

Every person’s bone structure is different. If we simply used stock angles like is commonly done, we likely won’t see what is going on. That is the major difference in our diagnostic approach for head pain: it is that everything we do is personalised to find out what your normal is … because if we don’t know what your normal is, it’s impossible to know what abnormal is.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic Treatment for Head Pain Problems

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Treatment for Head Pain Problems
In the majority of cases we see with people experiencing head pain, we discover misalignments that have actually gone in the exact opposite direction from how most common forms of treatment address

Therefore, the potential solution that we offer is by correcting the alignment of the upper neck from a different angle: one that is customised for your unique bone structure.



References

Aprill C, Axinn MJ, Bogduk N. Occipital headaches stemming from the lateral atlanto-axial (C1-C2) joint. Cephalgia. 2002;22(1):15-22. 

Braaf MM, Rosner S. Trauma of the cervical spine as a cause of chronic headache. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. May 1975;15(5):441-446).

Bragatto MM, Bevilaqua-Grossi D, Benatto MT, et al. Is the presence of neck pain associated with more severe clinical presentation in patients with migraines? A cross-sectional study. Cephalalgia. 2019 May 27:333102419854061. doi: 10.1177/0333102419854061. [Epub ahead of print]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31132869 

Edmonds J. The cervical spine and headache. Neurology, 1988;38(12):1874-8.

Gaul C, Meßlinger K, Holle-Lee D, Neeb L. [Pathophysiology of Headaches]. [Article in German]. Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 2017 Mar;142(6):402-408. doi: 10.1055/s-0042-111694. Epub 2017 Mar 22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28329901 

Mingels S, Dankaerts W, Granitzer M. Is There Support for the Paradigm 'Spinal Posture as a Trigger for Episodic Headache'? A Comprehensive Review. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2019 Mar 4;23(3):17. doi: 10.1007/s11916-019-0756-2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30830498

Millstine D, Chen CY, Bauer B. Complementary and integrative medicine in the management of headache. BMJ. 2017 May 16;357:j1805. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j1805. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28512119 

Teng CC, Chai H, Lai DM, Wang SF. Cervicocephalic kinesthetic sensibility in young and middle-aged adults with or without a history of mild neck pain. Man Ther. 2007 Feb;12(1):22-8. Epub 2006 Jun 14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16777468

Whittingham W, Ellis WB, Molyneux TP. The effect of manipulation (toggle recoil technique) for headaches with upper cervical joint dysfunction: a pilot study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1994;17(6):369-75.

Wong JJ, Shearer HM, Mior S, et al. Are manual therapies, passive physical modalities, or acupuncture effective for the management of patients with whiplash-associated disorders or neck pain and associated disorders? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders by the OPTIMa collaboration. Spine J. 2016 Dec;16(12):1598-1630. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.08.024. Epub 2015 Dec 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707074

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