4 lesser-known causes of headaches
Headaches are such a common issue, and notoriously they are badly managed by health professionals. This can be because locating the causes and sources of
headaches can be very tricky, and many times the headache is merely a symptom of something else entirely.
Most people are familiar with migraines, and tension headaches, but even tension headaches can have other causes, and migraines can have contributing factors.
If you are having headaches, and not getting anywhere, read on as we dive into 4 lesser-known causes of headaches.
1. Your neck!
Ok so this isn’t that less known, but in my experience, the neck can be a significant contributor to headaches in many people. Depending on which medical textbook you read, medicine never used to recognise neck-related headaches as very common (you’ll see figures published in the range or 3-9% of all headaches).
The problem with this is it is usually treating headaches as a “disease” or “syndrome” in its own right, rather than a symptom of another problem. So because of that, there seem to be many people with headaches related to the neck that may have been diagnosed with tension headaches or other types of headaches, when in fact their headache is just a symptom of a neck issue (and quite commonly a simple neck issue, not even a serious injury).
If you are suffering from headaches and you haven’t had your neck assessed as a cause, please find someone who can do that (including us).
It’s not always the case, but the neck should definitely be checked and cleared.
2. TMJ (the jaw)
Temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) issues can cause lots of problems with chewing and eating, and can also catch and lock, but they can also be a source of headaches. The nerves that supply sensation to the head also supply the jaw, and some of the neck, so there can easily be pain referred from one to the other.
Even people who grind their teeth (bruxism) can create a lot of pressure on the jaw and surrounding muscle, which can also lead to headaches.
(If you do have TMJ issues, our physio Holly has a particular interest in this area, having suffered her own issue with TMJ for many years. I would definitely suggest an assessment with Holly if this is an issue for you)
3. Rib joints
This can be quite surprising for many people, but the upper ribs and rib joints play a large role with the neck and muscles that attach in that region. Not only do many muscles (such as the scalenes) attach from the ribs up to the neck, but our rib joints need to move when we move our head and our arms. If we have a stiff, inflamed or irritated rib joint, it can certainly refer pain to the head (as well as other places).
Rib joint-related headaches often have a postural component, so it can be common in office workers and drivers who sit all day with their arms in front of them.
4. Postural fatigue and loading issues
Postural fatigue is also a big cause of headaches in office workers and drivers as well. Holding yourself in one position for a long period of time is actually very hard. (try holding your arms out in front of you like a zombie, and see how long you last. Most people struggle with just 2 minutes). So working in one position all day can lead to a lot of fatigue in the muscles around your neck and shoulders (particularly if you aren’t conditioned to it). This also goes if your workload has changed or increased recently… Working lots of overtime to get a project done, and now you’re getting headaches? Maybe you’re just really tired in your muscles.
As you fatigue, you can get the muscle burns and aches that go with it, but also once you fatigue you end up transmitting all the force and load your muscles were holding into the next step along the line – the muscle attachments on your joints.
Particularly if you are someone who gets worsening headaches as the day goes on (so you are good in the morning and bad by the end of the day) this could definitely be a cause of your headaches. Management usually involves a bit of treatment to settle down the irritated structures (joints etc) then strengthening exercises to build up your endurance so you can handle the requirements of sitting at your desk all day.
Headaches can be quite frustrating, and debilitating, and while we can put up with a lot of things, most people struggle to put up with headaches long term.
If you aren’t getting relief with your headaches, I would strongly recommend seeing someone to try and determine the cause, so you can directly work to address this and stop the headaches more permanently.
Just treating the symptoms (the headache) may not be the answer…