headache

Headaches can come from many different sources.  Some things that influence headaches are: dietary contributions, stress and anxiety leading to tension, and musculoskeletal issues.

Musculoskeletal Sources of Headache:

  • Cervicogenic (cervical instability or stiffness): usually pertains to the upper cervical region

  • Thoracic (upper back) stiffness

  • Myofascial (tissue) restrictions

  • Psychosocial and Stress leading to tension-holding habits

Causes:

The list below looks at sources of  irritation, inflammation and tension to the muscles around the neck.  This tension can impinge on the nerves that come from the cervical spine and travel up to the scalp, temples, and around the eyes.

  • Car accidents: In my experience, patients usually had a tendency towards the stiffness/instability in the cervicothoracic region prior to the accident.  It just took the accident to set things into motion a bit quicker.

  • Other injuries (sports, work, etc)

  • Posture: Explore the way that you stand/sit or perform your hobbies and recreation

  • Daily habits/activities: Again, explore the posture and myofascial use during hobbies, recreation and daily living

  • Psychosocial: what is going on in your life that may affect the way that you hold yourself and the way that you breath

  • Breathing patterns: are you a shallow breather, a chest breather or an abdominal breather (their is a time and place for each).

Relief:

  • Breath: If you don’t know how you are breathing, having a physical therapist or yoga therapist assess this. Using a thoracic breath, or more of a chest breath, you risk tightening up the secondary muscles of respiration, such as scalenes, sternocleidomastoid and pectorals. When you use an abdominal breath you utilize the the larger most-intended muscle for breath, the diaphragm. You can slow the breath and focusing on the present, shifting the balance from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic system. The latter is calming, lowering respiration and heart rate, decreasing blood pressure, lowering cortisol levels, and increasing blood flow to the intestines and vital organs (Woodyard 2011). The practice of controlled breath acts to down-regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration (Sengupta 2012). See my link to a handout on Abdominal Breathing for tips on how to perform yourself. Or try this Alternate Nostril Breath to calm the nervous system and ease tension.

  • Massage/Myofascial Release: Find a physical therapist or massage therapist that you trust for specifically guided soft tissue work on the neck and surrounding structures.  Foam Rollers and small pliable balls are a great way to self-massage your upper back, neck, and pectorals. Try these self-release neck stretches that may relieve headache-causing tension. I also recommend trying Dr. Hoy’s topical analgesic for headache relief. Place a small amount on your fingers and rub it into the base of the scalp/skull. You can place a little at the temples but only a little as it can cause stinging if too close to the eyes. I have used this numerous times for headache relief. 

  • Habits/Lifestyle: Address your postural habits throughout the day.  The workplace/home computer is often the first place to look. Please see the link by the APTA addressing “Neck Pain, for ideas. Also see my handout on a proper desk set-up. But as I always say, you can have the thousand dollar set up and still sit with your body slumped. So, it takes mindfulness to recognize how you are holding yourself throughout the day. “Mindfulness is easy, you just have to remember to do it.”

 Edited 11/8/13 see updates in italics. Let me know how I can help you obtain these new tools to help you get healthier. 

Some products I like:

  • Optimized Curcumin by Douglas Labs

  • Simply Organic herbs and spices–order natural anti-inflammatories like Cinnamon, Ginger, Turmeric or your favorites (can be found at health food stores or at iHerb)

  • Protein Powders by Pure Encapsulations or Designs for Health

  • Triphala GoldTriphala is a group of Ayurvedic herbs used for digestion. I take these every night to promote good digestion.  You can also use the capsule contents to make a tea. (can be found at iHerb

  • Yogi Tea–Ginger, Decaf Green Tea (can be found at most groceries or at iHerb)

  • Ginger-Turmeric Tea from Julies Coffee/Tea in Alameda

  • Liquid Vitamin D3 by Pure Encapsulations: Vitamin D3 is important for bone development as well as immunity.

Always best to get nutrition from food first, but when you can’t supplementation is the next best option. And professional grade supplements are a much better investment than those drugstore brands.  Patient access code is MBMC25. Click on the image below + use the code and you will receive 15% off. You will be taken to my personal recommendations once you login.


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I welcome any comments and hope that if you find this information helpful that you will pass it on to your colleagues and your friends.  Contact Tianna to see how she can help you with your health.

  1. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2010). Stress, food, and inflammation: Psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition at the cutting edge. Psychosom Med72(4), 365–369. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e3181dbf489.
  2. Sengupta, P. (2012). Health impacts of yoga and pranayama: A state-of-the-art review. Int J Prev Med3(7), 444–458.
  3. Woodyard, C (2011). Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. Int J Yoga4(2), 49-54. doi: 10.4103/0973-6131.85485.

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