Our expert says:
Dear J le C,
Stress is recognised as one of the commonest triggers for headaches and migraines. There are three important factors to bear in mind with regard to the relationship between stress and headaches:
1 We all have stress to varying degrees, but only in 20% of people does it bring on a headache
2 Most people cannot change their circumstances, so their stress levels cannot be reduced, e.g., we can’t change our job, our financial status, interpersonal relationships, the crime rate, the traffic – the list is endless.
3 There is a vicious cycle, with stress causing more headaches, and headaches in turn causing more stress. There is, however a benefit to this, in that if the headaches are prevented, the patients stress levels often decrease dramatically.
Even so, it is still possible to successfully prevent stress from causing headaches. To do so it is important to understand how stress causes headaches – What is the mechanism? Stress itself is not painful, so how then does it cause pain? Once we have this understanding, it is possible in most people to break the link between headache and stress. Most headache and migraine sufferers have increased tension in the muscles of the head and neck. When one is stressed the tension in these muscles is increased still further, and the muscles become painful, leading to headache. In these patients, if the underlying muscle tension is reduced, then the increased tension caused by stress is no longer enough to cause pain.
Even in patients who have increased muscle tension though, there may be other influences contributing to the problem, and the investigation should not be confined to the muscles alone, as this may lead to only part of the problem being treated. The correct method is by a “multidisciplinary” approach. This must include an assessment of the tension in the head and neck muscles. There are so many different structures in the head and neck are, all of which can be involved in the headache process, that no single specialist can have all the knowledge necessary to make a comprehensive assessment and diagnosis. For this reason, the combined the expertise of different specialists who would normally treat headache patients in isolation, are co-ordinated into a single more comprehensive body of knowledge. This enables a more comprehensive treatment plan, in which all the contributing factors are addressed.
Headache sufferers often have a poor Quality of Life due to the constant pain and associated symptoms. For a free assessment of how your headaches are affecting your Quality of Life, click on http://www.headacheclinic.co.za/
This information has been supplied and checked by the multidisciplinary team of specialists at The Headache Clinic, in association with The International Headache Society and the South African Institute of Headache and Migraine Science. For consultation with these specialists, call The Headache Clinic on 0861 678 911 (Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town).
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