“I Have Tried Everything to Help My Headache!”
Do you have a headache that nothing seems to make better? One comment I hear is that “I’ve been told it is all in my head.” Translation: you have a psychological rather than a physical problem. Mental stress issues certainly have a role in many, if not most, people’s headaches. However, often I see a multitude of people with headaches who have not exhausted the underlying physical roots of their affliction. They have “tried everything” is a common line I have heard from people who have not tried everything. They may think they have, but oftentimes they have not connected with the right treatment.
Headache from Nerve Tissues
Tissue called the “dura” contains and protects nervous tissue. This dural tissue can increase your back pain if you have sciatica. This irritable, inflamed tissue can also be a factor with your headaches.
The diagram shows the extent of the nervous system. Restriction in one area of the body can show up in symptoms in another area. The straight leg raise is a classic test that has been used to identify potential disc conditions, particularly if a stretch to one leg caused pain on the opposite side if the spine.
The dural tension concept for headaches is only referred to a few places in the literature. Some conditions lend themselves to easy study, others do not. Dural irritability is not an easy condition to investigate.
How Might I Know if Dural Irritability Affects My Headache?
Standard stretching and posture headache treatments don’t always work. I then consider dural irritability as a possible causative factor. I ask a client to sit on a chair, put one leg out on another chair, in a similar pattern to the illustration. Your healthcare provider should help guide you through this maneuver. Your headache level changes as tension builds through the nervous system when this dural condition is present. Do not attempt this test if you have sciatica. Your back would absorb the tension and be painful before the effect reached your head and neck.
Can I Overstretch the Dural Tissue?
Absolutely! One article by Scrimshaw and Maher discusses how excess dural stretching worsened the outcomes of people who had lumbar surgical procedures. Their spinous tissue was too fragile to tolerate the stress of dural stretching. Excess dural tension in your system could increase your headaches as well. You need to have the proper degree of stretch, guided by a healthcare professional, to avoid any potential hurt.
I point out that people with back pain are far more likely to have dural tension as a causative factor than are those with headaches. It is for those few that I want to raise awareness about this nervous tissue issue.
What Happens with Successful Dural Treatment for Headaches?
The gentle dural stretch in a chair can slowly decreases a headache on the spot. I find beneficial results for slow stretching to the legs, but not the arms. I would have expected the arms to be the logical treatment given that the arms receive their nerve supply coming directly out of the neck, but such has not been the case in my personal professional experience over the years. People comment how odd it is for headache pain to simply fade when this overlooked treatment works its effects.
Posture and Body Mechanics!
Here we go again with the common refrain you have heard for years. However, if you have dural irritability, body mechanics for you is critical so that you do not impose an abrupt, aggressive stretch on nervous tissue that is already fragile. Excess tension on your nervous system keeps it in a constant state of inflammation.
For example, look at how you reach to pick up your jacket on the floor. If you bend from the waist with your legs straight, especially when twisting, you just overloaded your nervous tissue. As the inflammation reaction sets in, you start to feel pain in your spine. You cannot figure out what you did to cause such pain. Your answer lies in the fact that several hours ago you bent with your body straight and took out the slack in your nervous tissue.
Your nervous tissue was not happy when you overstretched it, and it will make you pay. A better way for you is to squat to pick up your coat on the floor. Always allow a slight bend in your ankles, knees, hips so that your nervous tissue does not twang like an overly tight guitar string. Keep some slack in your system to protect both a sensitive back and neck.
Do not fully stretch out your arms when you reach for an object! Keep your elbow bent ever so slightly, and you will avoid the nervous tissue overload. Keep your dishes in the kitchen at the lower level in your cabinet and put the pots and pans up on a higher shelf so you do not bend with straight legs. Think about your daily activity and you will realize that you can think of a dozen places you are irritating your nervous tissue.
The Starfish Thrower
The Starfish Thrower story adapted from Loren Eiseley highlights the importance to me of finding that rare, helpful treatment for the client with migraines. In the story, a young girl walks along the beach, throwing stranded starfish back into the ocean. A man inquired of the girl as to what was the point of rescuing a few starfish given the thousands of starfish sprawled along the miles of beach. “You can’t make a difference,” he remonstrated. The young girl, undeterred, threw another starfish back into the ocean. “I made a difference for that one,” she countered.
You may have a relatively rare, but solvable, reason for your headache. Are you like that occasional starfish that can be spared headache misery if you can find a treatment that throws you back into the ocean? These blogs identify some common, and some uncommon, causes for headaches. Collaborate with your healthcare provider to delve further into your individual problem!
-You understand that if not done properly, some techniques and exercises described in this blog could harm you. Any activities you perform are at your own risk, and you expressly agree to waive any claims against the author for any harm that may arise from your own actions. By reading this blog and conducting these exercises, you accept this risk. This blog provides content related to physical and/or mental health issues. As such, your use of techniques described acts as your acceptance of this disclaimer. Consult Chapter 2 in my book, “Calming the Headache Storm” to make sure the headache is not the sign of a more serious problem. The techniques, advice and strategies contained in this blog may not be suitable for every individual and should be abandoned if your headache increases. Seek the advice of your physician.