Wellness Wednesday: Ever Experienced Recurring Headaches or Migraines?

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Loudoun County, Va. — Many of us have experienced a headache at one point or another, and some of us may have even experienced migraines. What exactly is a headache? In its simplest form, a headache is pressure from something on your brain. A headache can be broken down into two main causes:

  1. Headaches from external pressure
  2. Headaches that come from internal pressure

To understand these, we need to first understand the anatomy of your head. Your brain is surrounded by your skull. Your skull is a combination of multiple bones that when put together, form a general circle and thus a hard, protective layer around your brain. There is a very small amount of space between the inside of your skull and your brain. It’s just enough that your brain has a little bit of room to move around inside the skull. Think about a ball inside of a jar.

On the outside of your skull, there are many muscles that surround the skull. Most of these muscles originate from the base of your skull. These muscles on the outside of the skull have a direct connection to the muscles in your neck and shoulders and shoulder blades.

The most common type of a headache is that which comes from external pressure. By that, we mean that something is pressing on the outside of the skull and causing it to press inward on the brain. These generally happen when something has irritated the muscles on the outside of the skull. While this can occur because of bright lights, loud noises, fatigue, etc., it usually happens because the muscles in your neck are tight, weak or injured. The irritation of the muscles in your neck causes them to pull on the base of your skull. This pulling puts tension on the muscles covering your skull causing them to put an inward pressure on the brain, setting off the headache.

This is why when you have a headache, lying down or supporting your head feels comfortable and tends to lessen or alleviate the headache. The pressure on the bone on the back of your head – the suboccipital bone – produces a release in tension of the muscles in your neck and decreases the pressure on the muscles covering your skull. The fact that your head is more supported in this position means that all of the muscles have to work less to hold your head up. Remember, your head is like having a five to six pound bowling ball on your neck. Relieving that work load from those neck muscles enables them to calm down and release the pressure and therefore relieve the headache.

The problem with headaches is that typically, the small muscles in our neck and those covering our skull have gotten into a more permanent state of tightness and pressure. This is why our headaches will often go away for a day or two but then come back. Just like all muscles in your body, the muscles in your neck and skull are like rubber bands. If they are not treated properly, they will gradually shorten over time. So it is very common for us to see that the muscles in your neck, shoulder blades, shoulders and your skull are full of very small, but damaging, knots and areas of tightness. It is this tightness and these knots that prevent the muscles from completely releasing that tension and pressure on the skull. While they may relax for a short period of time, they have not returned to their full “normal” state and, thus, are very easily re-triggered so the headache returns the next day, next week or next month.

If you have been experiencing headaches recently or in the past, this is a sign that something is not right from the shoulders up. Think of the headache as being the “check engine” light in your car. The headache is a sign that muscles are under too much physical or mental stress and need some help ASAP to prevent other problems from occurring such as migraines, arthritis in your neck, vision or hearing problems, balance problems and more.

NOTE FROM OUR SPONSOR: Call Loudoun Sports Therapy Center TODAY to schedule an evaluation to figure out what is causing your headaches so they can be stopped and prevented long term.

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Loudoun Sports Therapy Center is a premier physical therapy clinic. We offer outpatient orthopedic and sports physical therapy as well as specialty programs.

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