Chronic Headaches – What Causes Them Isn’t What You Might Think

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Do you know some people who never get a headache? Given the many possible causes including stress, such people are rare and very fortunate. For the rest of us, a headache from time to time is not uncommon or something to really be concerned about. When we get them on a regular basis then there is cause for concern, and the impetus to take focused action.

When you experience chronic headaches, as a rule of thumb, have a thorough medical checkup with your family doctor to rule out any serious problems such as cancer, hormonal or heart issues. If nothing is identified and you still have concerns about your chronic headaches, it may be time to look at alternate causes that you may not have considered as a source of the problem. Think twice about the habitual use of aspirin, NAIDS or other forms of temporary fixes on a long-term basis.

Often, chronic headaches have their origin in structural and postural patterns that we have been living with for decades. What I know from 22 years of practicing Structural Integration is that all of the fascial sheets or “meridians” begin or end in the cranium. One cause for chronic headaches could be occupational in nature, where your structure is compromised by the daily routine of one’s work. Your job may be the breeding ground of repetitive stress syndromes and significant postural distortions. Such occupations could include a musician or someone who works at a computer most of their day. It could be a person who works on an assembly line, where they are bending over and/or twisting their body on a regular basis. The next time you see your dentist or dental hygienist you might thank them for what they put their bodies through.

All of the above occupational demands could result in the body’s fascia being compromised and forced to contort to their repetitive body movements. This can result in patterns of stress and demand that could be communicated into the fascia of the neck and cranium and cause chronic headaches. If your boss is a “petty tyrant” look no further!

One phenomenon of chronic headaches that I often find, is where one or more sutures (where 2 cranial bones meet) in the head become compressed or jammed together. Another form of compression in the cranium that is often responsible for headaches, is between the cervical vertebrae and the occipital bone, the large saucer-shaped bone in the back of the cranium. Often, the two will get jammed together, when the sub-occipital muscles have tightened and shortened. Sometimes the occipital bone or its base gets pulled forward towards the front of the head. In either of those cases, you must do something to move the occipital base back away from the cranium and create more space between the top of the vertebrae and the base of the cranium.

In some cases, the source of the problem is that the shape of a person’s cranium can be unbalanced. There could be more volume on one side than the other. There could be cranial twists, pulls or torques, so that the cranium is not balanced front back and from left to right, but rather quite uneven. These might result from car accidents, TMJ imbalances, dental work or one-sided shortness in one of the “fascial meridians”. Still, another cause for chronic headaches can be traced back to birth. A forceps birth can have a profound impact on the infant’s head. When forceps are being used to extract the infant during birth, it can put inordinate shape changing pressure on the baby’s head. This can set the child up for problems later in life.

After considering if any of the above scenarios may have affected you and could be the cause of your chronic headaches, and you have already had a medical checkup with your family doctor to rule out any serious problems, I suggest you see a different kind of specialist. My recommendation is to see a skilled practitioner who can palpate your cranium and observe the structural tie-ins to other regional and global structural patterns in the body. A forward head posture is often, if not always, tied into myofascial shortening in the front of the torso, including the diaphragm and the clavi-pectoral (upper chest) area. All of this together can play a part in pulling the head forward and anchoring the forward head posture into the body. So, the person is not at liberty just to pull their head back and correct the condition.

A starting place to explore in eliminating chronic headaches is to balance local distortions in the cranium and chronic neck tension while supporting those changes with more global fascial work. Some modalities and treatments that can be used to balance the cranium individually or in combination with other approaches could include Structural Integration (AKA Rolfing), cranial sacral, skillful chiropractic, and osteopathic work. So, in summary, if chronic headaches are a problem for you, look for alternate sources to correct the problem. You may find a way to do it without a dependency on drugs.

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