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Chronic headaches? Exercise could be the key to relief, says Canadian study

Chronic headaches

A new study in headache pain management from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College concludes that neck and head exercises along with relaxation training are beneficial for patients suffering from chronic headaches associated with neck pain.

Neck pain can result from a number of causes, from stress to poor posture to whiplash-associated disorders. And very often headaches are found to be a common symptom of neck pain. In Canada, individuals with neck pain are two to ten times more likely to suffer from headaches than those without neck pain.

Published in the recent edition of the European Spine Journal, the current study investigates the different types of headaches associated with neck pain and through a systematic review of the literature produces an account of the efficacy of various forms of treatment for each type.

Three types of headaches are found to be connected to neck pain; cervicogenic headaches (resulting from structural problems in the neck), whiplash related headaches and tension-type headaches. The study reports that tension-type headaches are the most common of the three, with between 9.5 and 38 per cent of Canadians suffering from them.

Researchers concluded that neck pain related headaches can be treated with exercise, especially of the low load endurance kind for the head, neck and shoulders. “The management of headaches associated with neck pain should include exercise,” say the study’s authors. “Patients who suffer from chronic tension-type headaches may also benefit from relaxation training with stress coping therapy or multimodal care.”

According to Statistics Canada, 2.7 million Canadians suffer from migraine headaches, which can drastically affect their work, social and educational opportunities. Headaches and migraines are known to have a causal relationship with depression and anxiety. Of Canadians dealing with migraines, 63 per cent are said to have minimal or mild depression and 20 per cent have moderate to sever depression.

Migraineurs use a variety of pharmaceuticals to help combat their headache pain, from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen to beta-blockers, MAO inhibitors and antidepressants. Triptans are the class of drugs developed in particular to treat migraines. More than half of migraineurs report incurring out-of-pocket drug expenses for which they were not reimbursed.

A recent study out of the University of Colorado showed that medical marijuana can have a therapeutic effect for migraine sufferers. The study looked at 124 adults diagnosed with migraine headaches who were prescribed medical marijuana by a physician between January 2010 and September 2014, most of whom used marijuana on a daily basis for the prevention of migraines.

The results showed that on average the number of migraine headaches decreased from 10.4 to 4.6 per month. Positive effects were reported in 39.7 per cent of participants and negative effects were reported in 11.6 per cent. According to the study’s authors, these positive results are likely due to the potential effects that cannabinoids can have on serotonin levels in the central nervous system.

Below: Stanford Hospital’s Meredith Barad, MD, Discusses Migraine Headaches…

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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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