Headaches, no one wants them, but everyone gets them from time to time. They happen to be a common affliction that everyone has to deal with, caused primarily because of stress. It’s estimated that there’s close to 72% percent of the population who suffers a form of headache in any given month. Women are more susceptible to headaches, at a rate of two times more often than men. You would almost think that by now, headaches other than taking a pill containing pain relief, would and should be cured by now. But in the majority of cases, headaches are just an everyday common hazard.
There are actually a few different types or classifications of headaches based on severity or cause. They include migraines, rebound headaches, hormonal headaches, sinus headaches, cluster headaches, and tension headaches. Each of these headache types also has their own unique causes as well as treatments. Although it’s not intended to discuss the remedies for all the different headache classifications, what will be discussed and focused upon is a specific as well as the most common type of headache that most suffer, which is the tension headache.
What Are The Causes Of Getting Tension Headaches
A definition of a tension headache is when your head aches because of tension and/or stress. Experiencing the actual stress itself however, does not cause the tension related headache. When we are subjected to or facing stress based situations, there are certain physiological coping type of mechanisms which are instantly stimulated in the body as a natural defense to help it to deal with the stress related event.
One of the most basic of the coping mechanisms, is it will raise certain ‘stress hormones’ in our systems which includes noradrenaline. Noradrenaline can have a few effects in the body once activated, one is that it will cause our muscles to instantly tighten up as well as contract. It does so to aide in physically supporting the body against it being continuously bombardment by the stress related stimulus. What may be interesting is that the type of stressful stimulus is usually relevant to the regulation of the noradrenaline.
A stressful situation that occurs just once is not as serious as a continuous exposure to a constant reoccurring stressful situation. For example, it you constantly worry about your kids, financial situation, or an unhappy relationship, the body will continuously attempt to deal with the same stressful feeling that’s related to that situation, which in turn produces a constant abundance of noradrenaline.
The more that your body will attempt to fight off these negative effects of a situation that’s stressful, the more the body is subjected to the effects caused by neurochemical compensation. In the initial stages of a stressful exposure, it’s commonly the body’s structural system which will initiate the protective as well as the coping strategies.
However, if the body isn’t relieved of its initial ‘cries for help,’ or if the symptoms are somehow suppressed by medication, the condition can be driven deeper into the body’s cellular system. This results in progressively worse results of the stress, resulting in higher blood pressure, potential ulcers, digestive system disturbances etc.
The early stages of the coping strategy process will manifest primarily through the muscularity system. As muscles will tend to contract under the stress, resulting in the ‘flight or fight’ response of the nervous system. Then the usual signs such as muscle tightness, tension or spasms will begin to appear.
What Are The Symptoms Of Tension Headaches
While the effects can usually be felt anywhere inside our body, the lower back as well as the neck will usually take the brunt of the pain. Most often, the symptoms will most likely start at one end, either the upper or the lower back. But if the stress is rather persistent, the tightness will usually spread, which often causes the individual to experience shoulder and neck pain as well.
A typically tension headache will start around the base of the skull and then along the upper parts of the neck. As the tension becomes persistent and begins to spread, the pain will then move over to the top of the head as well as going across the forehead, and then behind the eyes. The tension headache pain is usually symmetrical, meaning it affects both sides of the head, and not predominantly on one side.
The intensity of the pain will vary from a mild ache, to an irritating dull throb, to extremely severe and then severely debilitating. The frequency of getting a tension headache will usually vary from on a daily basis to a weekly occurrence, and in some instances, more frequently than that. But since it’s related to the frequency or the persistence of the stress, more than often, the headache will occur simultaneously and more frequently.
Since all of the muscles are attach to skeletal structure, which includes all of the bones involved in the spine, the chronic contraction of the muscles will often cause disruption of the normal articulations of the spinal joints. The body will naturally perceive the reaction as a ‘trauma’ to the joints, then attempts to protect itself as an impulse reaction by initiating further contraction around the joints. This will result in a ‘fixation’ reaction of the joints, and a cycle of protective tension based headaches will ensue.
The entire process can be exacerbated by performing physical stress related events such as driving a car, lifting or carrying heavy objects, and even strenuous physical exercise.
A Two-Fold Solution To Relieve Tension Headaches
The solution may be twofold. First, since the primary underlying cause of the unregulated noradrenaline is activated by the stimulus that’s created by the stressful situation, this is where you should begin. Often the stressful situation is not able to be eradicated or eliminated, but it’s possible to change the thoughts or attitude towards what causes that stressful situation to begin with. Keep in mind that this isn’t easy, but more often than not, it’s not that impossible.
There are techniques that you can practice, such as meditation, visualization, yoga or NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), which has all proven to be effective, provided it’s practiced consistently and correctly. You can also reduce noradrenaline by changing the possible ‘ruts’ that many of us often tend to experience in our lives.
So taking a closer look at our lifestyle may at times reveal our stereotypical existence, beginning by slowly doing things differently. If you happen to go for a bike ride to relieve stress, try going for a jog or a hike in the mountains instead. If you have a bad diet, start by experimenting with new different types of healthier, lighter recipes.
If you never go out to the movies or don’t frequent unique ethnic restaurants, then start going out once a week. You’ll be surprised by the positive effect this may have on your neurophysiology!
Second, you will have to deal directly with the causes of physical manifestations which creates the stress, the muscle tension or the headache. Get treatment by a Chiropractor, which is an accepted therapeutic form of releasing muscle tension. It will usually at times bring soothing instant relief to your muscle and joint stiffness, and should be considered as basic therapy for relieving tension headaches as well.
Also, other forms of relaxation such as yoga, massages, stretching and proper breathing will all help in controlling or eliminating headaches. Keep in mind however, that strenuous physical exercise, such as lifting weights, aerobics or swimming at times may not always be helpful. These are resistance type of exercises, and by definition, will tighten the muscles further, which is what your attempting to relieve and avoid! This is not to suggest that strenuous physical exercise is bad for you or isn’t recommended, but for some, it may need to be toned down a bit and mixed in with more moderate passive exercises as well.
Tension Headache Relief
You will often feel a lot better after a workout or an exercise program which is usually referred to as ‘de-stressing.’ What’s actually happening is that certain neurochemicals such as endorphins, which is known to produce almost an euphoric type of effect, such as a ‘runners high’ is released in the body.
This effect is always short-lived however, and once this ‘natural high’ wears off, you will then go through a withdrawal period which at times may actually feel worse.
When you do get tension headaches, other than taking those drugstore pain relief pills for your aching head, generally, headaches are not curable, so its a matter of just riding them out. This is because stress is a symptom of our lives and lifestyle and a natural body defense, where the end result is the headache.
Our lives are continuously subjected to stress that may at times be unpleasant, and thus requires our built in protective measures to kick in. Hence the production and activation of noradrenaline. So what’s recommended is that you use as well as adopt different techniques to prevent stress and thus reduce the tension headaches.