Dear Dr. Levister: What causes tension headaches? When should I see a doctor? P.E.
Dear P.E.: Except for head colds, headaches are the most common human ailment. In fact, headaches beat out backaches as the number-one cause of time lost from work. Approximately three out of every four people will have at least one headache within the year. Some headaches, like migraines, are caused by a disturbance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
However, now several specialists in musculoskeletal pain believe that a tension headache is usually due to trigger points.
Trigger points are small knots that develop in muscles. These knots or mini-spasms make pain travel to different areas of the body, often nowhere near the knot itself.
For example, trigger points at the top of your neck can send pain directly into your eye.
The name trigger point comes from the fact that these knots can sit in your muscles for ages without causing pain until something “triggers” them to become active.
Common triggers include fatigue, stress, poor posture, repetitive movements at work and cold drafts.
Massage therapy is a proven way of treating trigger points for longterm headache relief. In one study, researchers found that chronic headache sufferers had dramatic relief after ten massages that focused on treatment of trigger points.
Stress headaches, caused by overwork, stress, tension, or exhaustion, indicate adrenal imbalance.
These headaches usually occur in the late afternoon and are accompanied by difficulty concentrating, feelings of exhaustion, and low blood pressure. If you suffer from these types of headaches, you will benefit from stress-reduction techniques like meditation, acupuncture, biofeedback, massage, and yoga. Hot baths, steam rooms, and saunas can also help relieve stress and increase circulation. Stress headaches are often the body calling out for more oxygen. Sit down for five minutes and take 10 long, deep meditative breathes, and many times you will discover your stress headache is gone.
In a small number of cases, severe headaches may be a warning sign of a more serious disorder such as very high blood pressure, stroke, bleeding in the brain or even a tumour. See your doctor if you suddenly start having severe headaches, especially if they are your first ones and you are over 35 years of age; you have a severe headache during or immediately after physical exertion or straining; a headache accompanied by confusion or difficulty speaking — especially following a blow to the head, even one that occurred several weeks earlier or a headache accompanied by inflamed, clogged sinuses – it may be the result of infection and build-up of pus in the sinus passages.
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