Your Headaches Aren’t Caused By What You Think
By Dr.Alex Ritza & Ben Walker
I know you might think that chocolate, wine, stress, bad posture or another factor might cause your headaches but I can guarantee that they are not the cause! First, however, a little science before I tell you about Jackie.
Consider the importance of knowing the etiology or the basis of any condition/disease. If you want to provide the very best care, you need to know the specifics of its cause from a gross to the molecular level. It is why I always address the core problems of someone’s condition and make the specific corrections rather than just focusing on often-misleading symptoms.
More specific and accurate care will lead to better results!
Whether it is a socially conditioned connection or the simple association of stimuli and response, we often find some obvious factor to blame for a health problem. For example, explaining a cold as the result of poor weather instead of inhaling a rhinovirus might lead us to wash our hands less often and be more at risk of getting sick. Our misunderstandings have a huge implication in terms of how we best take care of ourselves.
When it comes to headaches, most people will associate it with a few specific causes, but I want to tell you that it simply isn’t true.
The majority of headaches that chiropractors manage successfully – migraines (with or without aura), tension headaches, or cervicogenic (coming from the neck) – are the result of irritation of pain and sensory nerves of the upper back and neck. Headaches are the result of irritated and dysfunctional nerves associated with the upper spine. Period. Full Stop.
If these nerves are calm and healthy, then you will not have a headache.
When the joints and muscles of the cervical vertebrae in the neck become irritated by chemical or physical stimuli they send a signal to the brain that it interrupted as pain or a headache. If the neck and its nerves do not get irritated to a painful threshold, even when placed on external stress, then no headache will result.
But, if your posture is poor enough or stress is causing you to tighten your spine muscles tight enough, it might excite and activate the nerves associated with headache-like symptoms. Factors like posture, diet, lack of sleep, stress and many others either directly or indirectly stress your nervous system that, if sensitive enough, might cause a headache. But they are never the sole cause.
If we thought that posture is a causative factor for headaches than headache sufferers should find immediate relief when their posture improves, but this simply doesn’t happen. Likewise, we might not have pain every time we are stressed out but notice it is more likely if we have also been eating and sleeping poorly.
Many of these factors add together to stress our nervous system and our well-evolved bodies are kind enough to let us know to change what we are doing in the form of a headache when we hit our nervous system’s threshold.
The more stressors, the greater intensity of the stressors or the more susceptible the nervous system, then the more likely you will have symptoms – whether we’re talking about headaches or running injuries.
Therefore, it is important to identify these factors as contributing and not causative.
The key is to manage the core problem causing the condition and make the nervous system less susceptible to stress. The key is not to tackle headaches by focusing solely on the factors that lead to them but ensuring that the actual machinery in the body is more tolerant and stress resistant.
When the spine and nervous system start to function properly and the nerves of the neck are less irritated and susceptible to stress, it will take more and more contributing factors to cause a headache.
A patient we will call Jackie (no not my partner) who I began seeing in November told me at her initial Neurofunctional Chiropractic Assessment that she suffered from multiple debilitating headaches in a given week. I was shocked and upset because she was such a lovely young woman, barely in her 20s, and had failed to have any relief despite a number of other interventions.
Upon palpating her neck, it was obvious that the upper neck was extremely irritated and sensitive to the point that a gentle challenge of the neck joints caused headache-like symptoms.
Fast forward a few months and Jackie has not had more than a handful of headaches since. I can palpate her neck without us grimacing in pain at its dysfunctional state. She can tolerate stress, poor sleep, getting back to the gym and now activities of a normal life that were once all contributors to a headache and misery.
It is always and important part of our care to try to improve lifestyle factors and reduce negative stressors but doesn’t it make sense to actually fix the underlying problem safely, specifically and effectively so it doesn’t come back?
About The Author
This article was brought to you by Dr. Alex Ritza in association with Ben Walker, personal trainer at Your House Fitness. We are health professionals in Toronto and care about corporate health worldwide. Again, we are delighted to share our news with our good friends at Corporate Wellness Magazine.