Headache is a common problem, affecting about 1 out of every 6 adults in the United States. It is the 4th leading cause of emergency department visits, costing billions of dollars annually. Numerous types of medications are taken daily to help reduce the intensity and frequency of headache, but these rarely ever cure the source of the headache. There are many sources of headache including severe events such as head injury or stroke, but by far the most common sources of headache pain do not originate inside the head at all.
Headaches are often divided into tension headache versus migraine headache, but most headache events actually include elements of both. Headaches are often dull, aching, or sometimes sharp pain that extend up to and around the eye and the temple area by the ear. Some people may feel a throbbing sensation and there may be variations depending on the season, the temperature, or weather changes.
The key to improving most headache pain is to understand and manage the “triggers” that provoke a headache episode. Some triggers may involve a food or beverage that the person may be sensitive to, such as cheese, red wine, monosodium glutamate, alcohol, or other foods that may provoke an allergic reaction. Learning to avoid triggers such as these can improve this type of headache pattern.
Another common type of trigger involves muscular tension, especially along the muscles that attach along the skull behind the ears and extending down to the neck and shoulder region. These muscles are often tender, and the headache pain can be often be improved by gentle rubbing or massage along these attachments. The ligaments and joints of the neck may also contribute to headache pain. Rapid or repetitive motion, prolonged positions, and poor posture all act on the tendon and ligament attachments to trigger headache pain. The tendons and ligaments do not have to be severely torn for pain and dysfunction to occur. A lesser degree of injury is called “tendinopathy” or “enthesopathy” in which the fibers of the tendon or ligament become frayed, or the substance may be degenerated and have partial tears. MRI Scans and X-Rays will almost never detect these common sources of headache pain.
Fortunately, headache pain associated with tendon or ligamentous strain can be treated without surgery using Regenerative Medicine / Prolotherapy. Injections of growth factors including Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) can stimulate repair of the damaged tendons and ligaments, and the muscular function is often restored back to normal. The platelets in your bloodstream contain a vast assortment of growth factors which normally serve to repair your aches and pains, and these can be directly injected into the painful areas of your body to stimulate growth and repair for areas that have not fully healed through the normal processes of repair that occur behind the scenes every day.
Specialized exercises through Physical Therapy can also guide the muscles and tendons to once again resume the activity that they were designed to do. With a combination of growth factor treatment and a well-designed exercise program, most headache and neck pain can be reduced or resolved.