We’ve all suffered through a headache at some point in our lives. Some may get the occasional headache as a result of stress, illness, lack of sleep, or even caffeine withdrawal. Others may experience much more severe and episodic headaches that can be excruciating and extremely debilitating. Headache disorders are considered the most common disorder of the nervous system. Headaches are so common in fact, that the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that nearly half to three quarters of adults (18-65) worldwide have experienced a headache in the past year. In this four part series on headaches we’ll discuss the three main classifications of a headache, four different types of headache, and finally how massage and reflexology can help.

According to the International Headache Society, headaches are classified into three categories: primary headaches, secondary headaches, and cranial neuralgia/facial pain and other headaches.

Primary Headaches such as tension-type heaches (TTH) and migraines are among the most widely reported forms of headache. Cluster headaches (CH) and  new daily persistent headaches (NDPH) although less prevalent, are also considered primary in nature. These headaches typically exist independent of any medical condition or underlying cause.

Secondary Headaches are usually the result of some underlying cause or condition. Secondary headaches can be a symptom of things such as caffeine withdrawal, smoking, and alcohol consumption (hangover). Some common types include, sinus headaches and medication overuse headaches (MOH). They can on occasion be a symptom of a much more serious nature, such as a stroke or concussion.

Cranial neuralgia/facial pain and other headaches are the result of irritation or inflammation of one of the 12 cranial nerves that supply the head and neck. The most frequent example is trigeminal neuralgia, which affects the 5th cranial nerve.

Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with these classifications, let’s take a closer look at  four different types of primary headache.

Tension-Type Headaches (TTH):

Also known as muscle tension or fibrositic headaches, tension-type headaches are by far the most common type of headache and account for nearly 90% of all headaches. The pain is usually bilateral, starting at the back of the head and neck then spreading to the temples and forehead. The pain can be a dull, persistent ache and feel like a band of tightness encircling the head. TTH are not usually debilitating but can be worse in the evening.

Causes:

-Chronic muscle tension

-TMJ Syndrome

-Neck/Jaw trigger points

-Psychological or physical stress

-Irritation of the cervical spine

-Sleep deprivation

-Grinding of the teeth (Bruxism)

-Injury to the coccyx or sacrum

 -Hunger

Other contributing factors:

-Mental or visual strain

-Holding your head in a fixed position

-Bright lights

-Strained sleeping position

-Noise

-Prolonged exposure to cold

Incidence:

80% of women and 67% of men are affected

Migraine Headaches:

The second most common form of headache, migraines are exceedingly painful events often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and hypersensitivity to light and noise. The pain is often described as a throbbing (not burning or piercing) type of pain that affects one side of the face. Some may experience pain bilaterally or behind one eye. Migraines are classified as a neurovascular disorder but their true cause is unknown. Some possible theories include, ‘leaky’ blood vessels, decreased serotonin levels, and involvement of the extra cranial nerves.

There are two main types of migraines: Classic migraines and Common migraines. They both share similar symptoms, however the classic migraine is accompanied by an aura.

There are four phases to a migraine. The first phase is known as the prodromal phase. This phase can occur hours or days before the onset of the migraine. Irritability, depression, fatigue, stiff muscles are some common precursors. The second phase, known as the aura phase (not present in common type migraines), immediately precedes the headache. Changes in vision such as flashing lights, dark spots, and double vision are often reported. The feeling of ‘pins and needles’ across the hand, arm and face followed by numbness is not uncommon. A person may experience confusion, trouble concentrating or may have difficulty communicating. In the third phase, the attack phase, the pain commences and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.  During this phase of the migraine, a person may be unusually sensitive to lights, sounds, and smells and for this reason may choose a quiet, dark, distraction-free environment to rest. Physical activity can often make the pain worse. The pain may be so intense as to cause light-headedness, nausea and vomiting in some. The postdromal phase is the final phase and can last a couple of days after the headache has subsided. A person may be left feeling sore, tired, weak or moody.

Causes:

Although there no known causes, there are some possible triggers for migraines:

-Hormonal or chemical triggers that occur during puberty, menses, and menopause

-Foods containing tyramine such as in wine, beer, and cheese

-Emotional and physical tension

-Allergic hypersensitivity

-Viral infections

-A family history

Incidence:

Migraines affect nearly 8 million people in the U.S.

18% of women and 6% of men are affected

In the next post we’ll discuss cluster headaches and new daily persistent headaches, as well as some conventional forms of relief.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.