By Debra K. Brinker, RN
Headaches are a common malady suffered by almost 50 million Americans, causing pain and discomfort in the head, forehead, scalp, or neck. Headaches have different causative factors, and their source requires some investigation. Regenerative and Natural Medicine options are providing non-medication solutions that correct the underlying triggers.
Hormones and Diet
Low or imbalanced hormones may contribute to headaches. In women, headaches may occur during the menstrual cycle, due to shifts in hormone levels. When this is the case, frequently the woman has too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. A Natural Medicine practitioner can prescribe appropriate natural hormone replacement or supplements to alleviate headaches due to hormone imbalance.
Headache pain can often be corrected with dietary changes. Food allergies or sensitivities can trigger headaches from hours to days after being eaten. People with chronic, dull headaches may have difficulty pinning the blame on food because the common offenders are usually eaten daily. These include wheat, dairy, and eggs. Next to sensitivities, eating too many carbohydrates and not enough protein can induce headaches in a couple ways. First, it may perpetuate hypoglycemic swings. Also, it promotes acidic blood, which can prompt a headache or foster problems with the hormonal system, which can again lead to headaches.
Instability of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can lead to a clicking jaw, face and neck pain (especially while eating or talking), a stiff mouth, and muscle tension which then leads to a headache. (See Figure 1.) TMJ syndrome requires stabilization of the TMJ joint and ligament, and a cervical spine evaluation for instability. Bite problems may also be present, necessitating bite equilibration.
Headaches and neck pain
If you have neck pain followed by a tension or migraine headache, then the source may very well be coming from your neck. Lax ligaments in the neck can lead to instability of the spine. People who have neck instability will often hear grinding, popping, crunching, or feel the need to crack their neck regularly, in addition to chronic neck tension or muscle spasms. It is the injured ligaments which refer pain in the form of a tension headache in the forehead, back of the neck or occiput.
Cervical instability wears many disguises
Did you know there is a cluster of symptoms including migraines, facial pain, ear pain, vertigo, tinnitus, loss of voice, hoarseness, neck pain, and severe fatigue that can often be attributed to cervical instability? It is known as Cervicocranial Syndrome, or Barré-Liéou Syndrome. The instability of the neck or cervical spine can precipitate these symptoms. Cervical instability involves increased motion between adjacent vertebrae which causes excessive stress on the supporting ligamentous structures and the nerve endings, as well as cause the vertebrae to push on the nerves or ganglia and cause irritation of the autonomic nervous system. (See Figure 2.)
Occipital neuralgia is another headache-causing condition related to cervical instability. The occipital nerve which runs at the back of the head can cause severe pain. Many folks get nerve blocks for this pain, but these are not always effective at resolving the pain. Any instability of C1/C2 can pinch or irritate the occipital nerve, and extra motion along the spine can kink and press and tighten on the nerves at the base of the skull. Symptoms include tenderness, clicking, grinding and popping in the back of the head.
Headaches after whiplash injuries: During a whiplash injury the head flexes and extends, in a forward and backward whip that injures the neck ligaments. (See Figure 3.) Whiplash often results in long-term pain, including chronic headaches, which is due to ligament injury and malalignment of the neck vertebrae.
Visualizing cervical and TMJ instability
Digital motion x-ray (DMX) can be utilized to see multiple angles of the neck through full range of motion, allowing for visualization of the excessive motion involved with spinal and joint instability. Considering pain and headaches are commonly experienced during movement versus while laying down, such as during an MRI, DMX can often provide more answers for those with chronic headaches who suspect they have cervical instability.
Regenerative treatment options for headaches
Prolotherapy, a regenerative injection therapy, involves the injection of proliferants into the damaged ligaments, which then tightens and repairs the ligaments involved in TMJ and cervical instability. (See Figure 4.) By stabilizing the area, it can eliminate the instability, muscle spasms, neck and jaw pain, headaches, migraines, and related symptoms. Prolotherapy is a safe non-surgical option that increases functionality in an otherwise life-altering condition. DMX can be performed in conjunction with Prolotherapy to diagnose and treat cervical instability, cervicocranial syndrome, migraine headaches, occipital neuralgia and whiplash.
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