One of the most commonly treated complaints in chiropractic offices is headache. While there are many types of headaches with varying causes, the most common type is the “Muscular Tension Headache.”
Tension headaches generally result from prolonged contraction of the suboccipital muscles. These muscles bridge the junction between the posterior (back) of the skull and the vertebrae (bones) of the cervical spine (neck). Several mechanisms seem to be involved in the causation of the common headache:
- Muscle inflammation and “trigger points.”
- Joint irritation and nerve compression.
- Dural traction on the spinal cord and brainstem.
- Muscle Inflammation and Trigger Points
Today more than ever people are inclined to sit for hours with contracted postural muscles but without substantial physical activity. When muscles contract they burn fuel and produce waste. Among the waste products of muscle contraction are lactic acid, histamine and bradykinins. These waste products are irritants. If they are not efficiently removed from the muscle they can cause muscular inflammation, pain and accumulate into localized tender areas known as “trigger points.”
These waste products should normally be diluted and removed from the muscle tissue by the circulation. This process relies on the normal “contract – relax” cycle in the muscle. When the muscle contracts it creates a high pressure on the fluids inside the muscle and pushes the blood out carrying away muscular waste products. When the muscle relaxes the pressure falls and blood floods back in carrying vital nutrients and fuel.
When we sit or stand we are using the many back and neck muscles required to support our body. When these muscles are held contracted for a prolonged time (hours spent sitting or standing), they are producing irritative wastes, but not relaxing and draining themselves of these irritants. Over time these irritants can cause the muscles to lose their natural suppleness and resting length becoming stiffened and shortened. These stiffened and shortened muscles, often accompanied by trigger points can cause reflex pain into the neck and head.