Headaches and Common Treatments

One of the most common medical complaints, a headache is a feeling of pain or discomfort localized in the head. The pain may originate in the head itself, or it may also be referred pain from the neck or upper back. There are many different types of headaches, and the appropriate treatment may vary depending on the patient and the cause of the headache. Headaches can be classified into two basic categories.

  • Primary headaches are not caused by any underlying medical condition; they occur independently of another disease.
  • Secondary headaches are a symptom of a pre-existing medical problem, such as a brain hemorrhage, bacterial infection, cancer, or other condition.

Types of Headaches

Treatment options for primary headaches (those not caused by an underlying medical problem) depend on what type of headaches the patient is experiencing.

  • Migraine. A common type of recurring headache, migraine sufferers usually experience intense pain on one or both sides of the head plus sensitivity to light and sound, vomiting, nausea, and an “aura” described as an altered experience of color, smell, and consciousness.
  • Optical migraine headache. Often a precursor to a migraine, this type of headache is closely related to the “aura” stage and presents with symptoms like light and sound disturbance, blind spots, and vision disturbance.
  • Cluster headache. Known for a severe, throbbing pain on one side of the head, cluster headaches tend to occur in patterns (e.g. always in the same area of the head at the same time of the day). Alcohol, certain drugs, and vasodilating medications may trigger the headaches.
  • Tension headache. Tension headaches are known for causing the sensation of a tight band around the head and can also cause pain around the neck. The pain may present with a slow onset and may be more severe if the patient is exposed to stress, lights, and loud noise.
  • Cervicogenic headache. Damage to the cervical vertebrae of the neck can cause referred pain in the head. This damage may be due to long-term repetitive stress, poor posture, or an injury. Headaches are usually triggered by performing the underlying activity (such as sitting with poor posture) for an extended period of time.

Common Treatments for Headaches

When the pain of recurring headaches is too severe for over-the-counter medications, alternative treatment approaches may provide the patient with relief. The pain specialists at Elite Pain Management offer a number of different treatment options for different types of headaches.

  • Occipital nerve block. Many tension and migraine headaches are caused by inflamed and swollen tissue around the occipital nerves, which run along the back of the head. By injecting medication into the tissue, swelling and headache pain can be reduced drastically.
  • Botox. Known mostly as a wrinkle treatment, Botox can also be used to treat chronic and frequent migraine headaches. The drug is injected in various places around the head and reduces the release of certain chemicals that cause pain.
  • Cervical epidural steroid injections. The epidural space, which surrounds the spine and neck in the spinal canal, runs up through the neck and can cause headaches when the nerves inside become inflamed. By injecting a steroid medication into the cervical epidural space, a physician can treat inflammation directly.
  • Cervical facet rhizotomy. The degeneration of tissue between the cervical vertebrae can cause Cervicogenic headaches. Facet rhizotomy is a procedure that uses heat to deaden the nerves near affected facet joints in the cervical vertebrae.