How Chiropractors Classify Headaches

When diagnosing how to treat a patient who complains of headaches, chiropractors have to carefully asses what sort of headache they’re dealing with so that they know which treatment methods to apply for relief. To make an accurate diagnosis they must categorize the patients symptoms. It all begins with two major distinctions. 

First, there are primary headaches which include tension-type, migraine, cervicogenic, and cluster headaches. All of these are not caused by some other medical condition, but instead are themselves a medical condition that needs treatment. Most headaches, 90% in fact, are primary.

The second major classification for headaches after primary is secondary headaches. Secondary headaches are the result of other medical conditions like infections or even increased pressure in the skull caused by the presence of a tumor. Less than 10% of all headaches fall into this category.

Primary headaches fall into 4 major subdivisions that require their own special treatments for relief.

The most common primary headache is known as a tension-type headache, being the cause of up to 75% or more of headache sufferers' pain. 90% of adults have had a tension-type headache at least once in their lives. Tension-type headaches are characterized by a persistent and steady ache, as opposed to a throbbing feeling. Tension-type headaches are often described as a feeling of pressure that can last for just several minutes or for entire days. They are known to affect both sides of the head. These headaches don’t worsen with physical activity and nausea is not a symptom. A chronic element that brings these headaches on a daily basis might be present. The frequency of tension-type headaches serves as a further subdivision of the type, which includes infrequent episodic (less than once per month), frequent episodic (occurring 1-14 times per month), and chronic (15 days or more in a month). 

The next most common type of headache is the Cervicogenic Headache, which originates from disorders of the neck. These headaches arise from moving the neck too much or holding the head at an awkward angle while performing an usual activity like painting or washing the floor.

Migraine Headaches are less common than tension-type headaches but do affect a large number of people (25-30 million) in the U.S. For some reason women complain of them more than men. Migraines are typified by a throbbing feeling and intensification if physical activity is engaged in. Nausea is also an associated symptom.

The final primary headache type is cluster headaches which are rare with only 1% of the population suffering from them, and most the afflicted being male. They are named cluster headaches because they come in intervals and stay for only a brief period time of an hour or two at most. There is some indication that heavy smoking and drinking of alcohol may play a factor.

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Used under Creative Commons Licensing courtesy of Matt Brown