Recurring headaches have produced a huge market for medications that cover up the symptoms of headaches. Powerful drugs can numb your nervous system so the pain doesn’t register. While these approaches may be convenient, they can cause adverse effects and kidney or liver damage. Worse, they don’t treat the underlying cause of the headache. Overusing certain medications including those used to treat headaches can lead to “medication overuse headache” (MOH).
MOH is a chronic daily headache caused by the use of too much acute medication. It generally occurs in people with migraine or tension-type headaches who take analgesics and anti-migraine drugs too often. When the effect of one dose wears off, a withdrawal effect occurs, triggering the next headache and another round of medication. This results in a vicious cycle of daily headaches and increasingly frequent medication intake. Researchers have pinpointed the medications most at fault.
Upon reviewing the charts of 1,200 acute headache patients seen during 2005, 2000, 1995 and 1990, researchers from Princeton University found that diagnosis of MOH remained stable over the 15-year period. However, the drugs responsible for MOH changed dramatically:
MOH from ergotamine overuse fell from 19 percent to 0 percent. Known commonly as Cafergot. It is used to treat migraine headaches.
MOH involving triptans, a newer class of drugs, increased from 0 percent to 22 percent. Imitrex is the most popular triptan, also used for treating migraine headaches.
MOH due to analgesics (painkillers) increased from 8 percent to 32 percent. This classification includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to include: Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Aleve and Tylenol.
Overuse headache from combinations of acute medications increased from 10 percent to 23 percent.
MOH from opioid overuse decreased slightly.These drugs include: Morphine, Codeine, Percocet and Vicodin.
Many patients overuse prescription medications, and the researchers recommended implementing public health initiatives to educate doctors and patients about setting limits on prescription and other medications, and raising awareness that overusing medications for migraine headaches can lead to MOH.
Musculoskeletal or structural causes lie outside the realm of chemical causes for headaches. The musculoskeletal system includes a network of bones, muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, fascia, cartilage and other connective tissue. When there are imbalances in the function of each of these tissues, pain and tightness can result. The musculoskeletal system is supported by the spine and skeleton. When the spine is strong and moving correctly, the muscles are soft and supple. The nerves coming off the spinal cord are uninhibited and can function at their full potential.
When disease or injury occurs, the spine can get ‘stuck’ and change shape. You may notice this as a ‘catch in your neck’ or a ‘hitch in your giddy up’. This shape change means losing curves of the spine that make it strong and healthy. The muscles will tighten in certain areas and then pain starts. As tension rises headaches can be the result. The nerves coming off the spine, in areas of injury, can be ‘choked’ and unable to perform the job they are supposed to. This can affect skin sensation (causing numbness and tingling), organ function, and muscle tone and strength. This change in function can cause headaches that feel like they are crawling up the back of your head (occipital), on the sides of your head (parietal), through your forehead (frontal) or behind your eyes (ocular).
The chiropractic doctors at Shephard Clinic will locate areas of your spine that aren’t moving properly. Strong curves of the spine are very important and X-rays may be taken to look for weakness and curve changes. We’ll look at your posture and your ability to turn and bend. These and many other examinations can help determine if you are likely to benefit from chiropractic care.
If you’re a chiropractic candidate, your care will consist of a schedule of chiropractic adjustments. These help normalize spinal function, help restore essential spinal curves, improve circulation and reduce nerve irritation. Many patients report fewer and less severe headaches.
Results can come quickly for some and a little longer for others. Your injury history, posture at work, stress at work and physical fitness can be factors that slow the recovery process. If you’ve had chronic headaches for many years, improvement can take time. Our controlled force technique is a gentle way to adjust your spine, improving joint, ligament and muscle function.
We want to find the reason why your headaches are present in the first place. If there are spinal or musculoskeletal causes, then there is good chance chiropractic can help. Headaches may be common, but they’re not normal. Every headache has a cause. If we’re unable to find and correct the cause of your headaches, we can refer to other specialists who may be able to help. Your health is our only goal.
Patient Media, Inc., Headaches. 215 Sutton Lane, Colorado Springs, CO 80907.
J. Mercola, D.O., Headache Drugs Can Actually Give You a Headache. Mercola.com Newsletter: July 4, 2006.
Headache. The Journal of Head and Face Pain May 2006, Vol. 46, No. 5: 766-772.
New York Headache Center, Medication Overuse Headache. web definition 2011.