Short answer: Whilst over-the-counter medications and visits to your GP may be the first port of call for sufferers of headaches and migraines, allied health practitioners can play an important role in assisting with pain management and lifestyle adjustments to prevent occurrence and frequency.
Headaches are common, with around 15 percent of Australians taking pain-relieving medication at any given time. Despite this, they are not simple to explain and their causes can be many and varied. Common causes include stress, medications, diet, jaw problems and illnesses of the eye, ear, nose and throat, but this list is by no means exhaustive.
There are different headache types which are split into two main groups – Primary (episodic or chronic) and Secondary.
Migraine is a type of Primary Headache that can cause moderate to severe throbbing pain and can last from 4 – 72 hours. The headache is only one symptom of a migraine. Sufferers may also experience symptoms including nausea, dizziness, extreme fatigue and increased sensitivity to light, sound or smells. An episode can occur in four distinct phases called: Premonitory or Prodromal; Aura; Headache; and Postdrome. However, not all sufferers will experience all phases.
Why people suffer from migraines is not fully understood and there are different types of migraines in addition to the ‘common’ migraine. The causes for attacks could be biological or environmental in nature and scientists are unsure why they affect some and not others. Some risk factors may be family history, gender, depression/anxiety and childhood abuse. Triggers for attacks vary from person to person, but common triggers appear to be sleep – too little or too much, diet and food additives, hormonal changes, changes in environment and sensory triggers.
Secondary headaches occur as a result of chronic medical conditions and illnesses that affect the nervous system. Some of these conditions may be sleep disorders, brain tumors, head trauma, seizures, leaking spinal fluid, physical deformities of the head, neck or spine, strokes or inflammation in the body and withdrawal from medications or drugs.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to treat or prevent headaches. Any strategy is best managed between yourself, your GP or specialist, and your allied health provider. WLC Medical can assist with physiotherapy or remedial massage for neck/shoulder stress, tension and postural correction often associated with headaches. Our dietitian can assist with identifying possible food sensitivities and stimulants to alleviate food-related headaches, while our psychologist and counselling practitioners at Keystone Counselling and Belmont Counselling can offer strategies for stress and depression management.
Once a potential cause of a headache or migraine can be identified, treatment methods are available to reduce their intensity, duration and frequency.