When Does a Headache Need More than Over-the-Counter Pain Medication?

Chiropractor for HeadacheMost people will have an occasional headache that they can attribute to fatigue, lack of sleep, eye-strain or food or alcohol intake.  Rest and the possible use of one of the brands of over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication probably would give relief. This may be an indicator of a simple change that needs to be made, e.g. getting more sleep, reducing alcohol intake, more selective choice of foods or changing the lighting.

If the headache is more frequent than just occasional, then it starts to indicate that there is something that needs a different approach.  The first course of action would be to make sure that the simple factors as mentioned above are being addressed to change the cause. If those simple issues have been addressed and are known not to be the cause, then it is time for more investigation.  Continuing to do the same things that cause the headache and taking pain medication more frequently leads into more problems.

Repeated use of pain medication more often than twice per week can cause what is called a “rebound headache” where taking the medication actually causes a headache, often the next day.  This creates its own cycle of recurring headaches. So, using pain medication for frequent headaches is not a good plan.

If headaches present with any regularity, even if occasional, investigation into the cause is imperative rather than just trying to mask the symptoms with the OTC pain medication.  There are many other causes of headaches that may be indication of something not working correctly in the body. This could be hormonal, high blood pressure, exposure to chemicals or an allergic reaction to something, to list a few.

When a headache is not completely relieved by medication or perhaps comes back fairly quickly, there is something going on that is causing the headache.  Eyestrain is often a cause of headaches and the eyes should be checked to see if corrective lenses are needed. Another factor that can cause headaches is stress.  Stress triggers a lot of chemical changes in the body and this can lead to a chemical cause for the headaches, but there can also be the muscle tension in the neck and shoulders from the stress.  Finding the way to reduce the stress is important, practicing meditation, doing something different, getting some exercise or being out in nature are options to reduce the stress. Often, though, on returning to the former activities, the stress is picked right back up at the door.

When this is the case, there might be the need for some other intervention.  Massage therapy can reduce the muscle tightness and if received regularly it can repattern some of the muscle habits or at least keep the tightness at a lower threshold.  Chiropractic care can be very useful in that it addresses the structural and neurological factors that are causing the tension.  When the bones in the neck get misaligned from an injury, a poor postural habit or poor sleeping position, among other possible insults to the balance of the musculoskeletal system, they can change the structural support dynamics of the head and neck.  This creates muscle strain, and additionally may irritate the nerves that exit from the spine that control the muscles, blood flow and other aspect of body function. In addition, correcting the posture will be helpful in reducing neck muscle tension. A chiropractor can address the structural issues that contribute to and are caused by poor posture, and can provide exercise training to keep the posture improved.

It is important when there are frequent or recurring headaches to address the situation and seek the appropriate professional assessment to determine what needs to change and how best to accomplish that.  Taking OTC medications will not correct the cause. It just masks the symptoms.

Thanks to Chiropractic Health Alternatives for their insight into headache relief.

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