What’s causing my headache?
Cassandra DenHartog PTA, LMT
That’s an age-old question which has many answers.
First of all, what are headaches? Usually, we associate this term with pain in the head, but did you know there are many kinds? Whether you’re having pain in the front, back, or all over can make a difference.
Where is your pain located?
Forehead and around eyes- Usually is a sign of eye strain. This is common with people doing a lot of computer work or in constant brightness changes. Solution? First make sure you are not expressing stress and worry with your facial muscles. Massage, using upward strokes around forehead and eye brows, can help. You can get muscle knots around your eyebrows, which can result in pain around the eyes and forehead. If massage doesn’t help, try having an eye exam. You may not be focusing correctly. Glasses, or a correction in your glasses prescription, could help with this.
Back of the head at base of skull- Headaches located here are usually due to stress and tension. The upper trapezoid muscles, the muscles at the tops of your shoulders, come up and attach in the back of the head. When these muscles are overworked, they constantly pull on the back of the head irritating the tendons. It’s like tendonitis of the skull. This causes pain that starts at the back of the head near the base of the skull that can wrap all the way around. Solution? When you feel this headache type start coming on, use ice on the back of the head. This decreases inflammation and helps prevent the pain from spreading. If this does not help or the headache is already too bad, try shoulder massage. Start at the tops of the shoulders and massage up to the back of the head. Remember to give extra love to the base of the skull. Self-stretches can also help prevent these type of headaches. The best stretches: pulling your nose to your armpit, and pulling your ear to your shoulder.
Side of the head- These headaches are typically caused by the temporalis muscles; the muscles of the temples. They can also be caused by eye strain, or emotions causing excess use of facial muscles. Solution? Take your pointer finger and begin to rub on your temples. If you are feeling soreness or tenderness in this area, this is most likely part of the problem.
Pain coming from the jaw up into the head- This usually comes from the masseter muscles or muscles around the jaw. This can be a common trait for people with TMJ problems, or people who chew a lot of gum, or have a tendency to clench their jaw. Solution? Massaging the masseter muscle can be very beneficial. You do this by opening your jaw wide and following your teeth back until you feel the muscular structure of the masseter muscle where your jaws comes together. Relax your jaw and, with mouth closed, massage this muscle up and down. This muscle should feel very tight but soften when massaged. Also, try avoiding aggravating activities such as gum chewing.
Pain all over the head- If there was no specific spot where the headache started, it could have more of a chemical and a muscular cause. First thing to check is if you’re hydrated. Remember the average human needs at least a half-gallon of water a day to stay adequately hydrated. Also, consider if you’re are going through a hormone change. Hormones can be behind frequent headaches with no other apparent cause. If this is suspected, you should consult your doctor. Hormone imbalances are hard to self-correct, but not impossible. If a doctor isn’t for you, look at eating a lean diet. Remove anything that causes an inflammatory reaction; this means cutting back on gluten, decreasing or totally removing red meats from your diet, and eliminating all sugars. Decreasing inflammation in your body can help with hormonal balances.
Pain in ears and into head- This most often feels like an earache. Often it is due to plugged Eustachian tubes, or what people call plugged ears. Often this is hard to get rid of. Solution? Start by taking several hot steamy showers. Sometimes this is enough to relieve this pressure. If not, you may want to consult a doctor. If you are experiencing dizziness, a feeling of the room spinning with movement, or a feeling of being drunk, you could be experiencing vertigo. This I something you should consult your doctor about, as this usually can quickly be relieved.
Pain in head and neck with head down- This occurs when you are looking down or at a computer screen a lot. In this age, it’s what people call “texter’s neck,” which is caused by the increased strain of holding the head at a forward position for a prolonged time. This can be relieved by adjusting how you look at screens, books, etc. and raising things up to eye level so the head is square atop the shoulders.