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What causes headaches in your opinion?

imageThere are different types of headaches each with different causes. Headache is a very common symptom with several large research studies showing that 80% - 90% of the population say they have had at least one headache in the previous year.

Types of headaches and causes are as follows:-

TENSION Headaches - sometimes called muscular headache. 70% of all headaches are tension headaches. The pain in this type of headache is mild-moderate and affects both sides of the head. It is associated with neck pain or tightness in the muscles of the neck and shoulders.
Tension headaches can be caused, as the name suggests, by tension and stress. Contributing factors include

  • poor posture causing stiffness in the small joints in the neck and weakness of the neck muscles;
  • poor work-station set-up can cause strain the muscles and joints in the neck;
  • eye strain can contribute to headaches as the muscles around the eyes tighten to squint at a computer screen.

Exercise will help a tension headache.


MIGRAINE Headaches - This type of headache can run in the family. Nausea and vomiting may be symptoms of Migraine. The pain is often a "throbbing" type pain affecting only one side of the head and can be associated with sensitivity to light or noise.
Migraines can be triggered by hormonal changes, fatigue or sensitivity to certain foods. Exercise will make a Migraine headache worse.

INJURY such as Whiplash can cause headaches.

SINUSITIS - Infection of the sinus cavities in the face that can occur with the common cold can cause headache. Any infectious disease which raises body temperature can cause a headache such as 'Flu or a chest infection.

TMJ Dysfunction - Problems with the jaw joint - the temperomandibular joint (TMJ) can cause headaches.

SERIOUS ILLNESS Headache can sometimes be a symptom of serious illness such as Meningitis, subarachnoid haemorrhage or an aneurysm. If serious illness is suspected, medical help should be sought immediately.

What are your tips to avoid headaches?

  • Remember the benefits of good posture in standing, sitting and lying. Always sit and stand "tall" with your chest lifted, shoulders relaxed, chin tucked in and neck feeling straight but relaxed.
  • Sleep on an appropriate pillow for your body size. Try to avoid sleeping on your stomach.
  • Take a break from your computer and keyboard, either every 20 minutes or change your task for 10 minutes in every hour.
  • Your lumbar spine should be supported when sitting and, when sitting, your hips should be higher than your knees.
  • Ensure your work-station is correctly set up for you in terms of chair height, desk height, screen position, keyboard & mouse position.
  • Regular exercise, yoga or relaxation techniques can help prevent headaches.

Can a Physiotherapist help?

YES! Chartered Physiotherapists are the experts in the assessment of human movement and treatment of postural problems. Any joint stiffness or muscle weakness affecting the neck can be identified and treated to help prevent tension headaches.
Treatment techniques may include

  • joint mobilisations / manipulation,
  • soft tissue massage and active exercises to help with mobility;
  • exercises to help with muscle strength or overall fitness;
  • ergonomic advice to help with work-station set-up;
  • relaxation techniques or acupuncture to help with pain.

This article was written by the McNaughton Physiogrange Team and first appeared in the August 2008 edition of 702 Gazette

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