When I put pressure on my head, why does it hurt?
Many people, when asked to describe a headache, will say that it feels like something is pressing on their head, even if nothing is physically there. In other instances, however, head pain is caused by physical pressure. This could cause momentary discomfort, or prolonged pressure could lead to severe headaches that wouldn't go away for hours or even days. While this is usually not cause for alarm, it is a good reminder to see a doctor about your headaches to make sure they don't get any worse or become chronic.
The Roots of Your Headache
A headache is the most common cause of pain in the head. Discomfort in the head, neck, or shoulders is what this category is referring to most of the time. There are two main types of headaches: primary and secondary.
Most people experience primary headaches, which are not a symptom but rather a disease or condition in and of themselves. The primary medical issue is the headache itself. Primary headaches can have a variety of causes, including insufficient sleep, a physical trigger, or emotional tension.
In contrast, secondary headaches arise as a result of conditions other than the primary headache. Headaches can be caused by a wide range of medical issues. Here are some cases in point:
- Medication abuse
- An issue with hypertension
- Disorders of the mind
- Traumatic brain injury
- Disturbances of the Nervous System
- Clogged sinuses
In order to get rid of a secondary headache for good, the underlying cause must be dealt with in addition to the pain itself.
Although "headaches" is often used as a blanket term, there is a wide spectrum of severity from which people can suffer. Sensitivity to the head from a headache can make it hurt even more if you bump it or scratch at it.
Stroke of Anxiety
When people complain of a headache, they are usually referring to a tension headache, which is the most common type and frequently occurs for no apparent reason. Although tension headaches typically indicate nothing serious, many people find that they are extremely painful. Stress and other mental or physical causes of discomfort are also possible.
The duration of the average tension headache can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 7 days. Tension headaches can become chronic if they last for more than 15 days, and in some cases even months.
Environmental and physiological factors contribute to the susceptibility of some individuals to developing tension headaches. There is often a recurrent pattern to these headaches, with the ongoing pain leading to increased levels of stress and sadness, which in turn leads to yet more headaches.
The most typical symptoms of a tension headache are:
- A persistent pain in the head, typically felt on both sides.
- A sensation of having one's head "in a bag" or submerged
- Spreading discomfort from the temples to the nape of the neck
Tension headache pain is constant and can be made worse by any kind of head pressure.
Migraine headaches can happen once, but most people experience them as recurrent attacks. Migraine pain is typically severe, throbbing, and localized to one side of the head. Migraine pain can be so excruciating that it forces many sufferers to bed rest for the duration of the attack.
Migraines frequently come with symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and hypersensitivity to sensory stimuli.
The Pain of a Cluster
Chronic cluster headaches have a reputation for being extremely painful. Cluster headache sufferers typically experience cycles of headache-free and then rapidly-spaced headache episodes. The interval between instances can range from once per day to multiple times per day.
Pain Like an Ice Pick
An ice pick headache is a common term for a severe, intermittent head pain. Headaches like this come on suddenly and are extremely painful, often being compared to being repeatedly stabbed with an ice pick. These attacks, which last less than a minute on average but can occur multiple times a day, come out of nowhere and last as long as the day. The pain can originate anywhere in the head and has no set location.
Pain in the Sinuses
The sinuses are a network of air-filled cavities located behind the nose and forehead. When inflamed, they trigger mucus production, like when your nose is stuffy or runny. A sinus headache is the common name for the pressure in the head caused by an accumulation of this mucus. Symptoms include head, face, and jaw pain that is often misdiagnosed as a migraine.
Traumatic Brain Injuries and Concussions
Headaches can be the first symptom of a more serious problem, such as a brain injury, after a traumatic event such as a blow to the head, a car accident, or any other similar event. Headaches are often the first symptom of concussions, but they can also be signs of more serious injuries. Concussions can cause mild pressure in the head, as well as nausea, dizziness, and confusion.
Headaches can also be categorized in other ways, such as:
- Headaches caused by taking too much of a pain reliever can be called "medication overuse headaches." As time passes, this can cause the pain to become chronic and resistant to treatment.
- Headaches that develop suddenly, last longer than 24 hours, and recur frequently each day are considered "new daily persistent headaches." These can be very painful, and they often manifest in people who have never suffered from headaches before.
- A pulsating pain on both sides of the head is a common symptom of exercise headaches, which occur after strenuous activity or exercise.
Relieving the Pain of Head Pressure
The first step in relieving a headache caused by pressure to the head is to stop doing so. That can mean avoiding anything, like headbands, earphones, or hats, that adds pressure to the head, and also trying to avoid pressing on the head intentionally. The pain and other symptoms are usually just a side effect of a more serious headache, so there are home remedies to try.
To alleviate the pressure and pain of a headache, try these methods.
- Anxiety can bring on a wide variety of headaches. Taking a hot bath, getting a massage, or anything else that helps you unwind can be beneficial. Reducing or avoiding sources of unnecessary stress in your life can help.
- Be sure you're getting a good night's rest in a relaxing setting.
- Work on straightening out your back and shoulders so you don't strain or tense your muscles.
- Sore muscles, especially those in the neck, benefit from both ice and heat.
- Pain and the inflammation it causes can be treated with over-the-counter medications like aspirin and ibuprofen.
- Migraine sufferers can benefit from reducing exposure to stimuli like light and sound. In order to alleviate the pain of a migraine, many people will sit in complete darkness and silence for extended periods of time.
- Mild exercise can aid in pain management by triggering the release of endorphins, which dull sensations of pain. Headaches brought on by muscle tension or fatigue can also be alleviated through regular exercise.
Triggers for headaches vary by type and may be unique to the individual. In order to better manage and prevent headache episodes, it can be helpful to pinpoint specific triggers, such as certain foods, weather conditions, behaviors, or other factors.
By becoming aware of these risk factors, you can potentially adopt a more preventative approach to home care and modify your routine accordingly. Stopping drinking coffee could be seen as preventative action if, for instance, you find that it aggravates your headaches because of caffeine.
Care Seeking Indicators
Even though headaches occur on occasion, more than twice a week of pain medication use is not healthy. If you find that you need more help than this, you should see a doctor. If you are experiencing persistent, severe, or otherwise unusual pain, it's important to seek help.
The first step in managing headache pain is often a conversation with your primary care physician. If they suspect a more serious medical issue is at play, you may be referred to a specialist.
Testing and Diagnosis of Headaches
Your doctor will want to know what kind of headaches you're having before deciding on a course of treatment. In addition, they may try to identify precipitating factors, secondary symptoms, and underlying diseases.
Your medical history, including questions specific to your headaches, will likely take up the bulk of the first part of your appointment. If you want to be prepared for questions about your pain, other symptoms, triggers, and medication history, keeping track of when and for how long your pain episodes last in a log can be helpful. They might also do a full body check, including your neck, shoulders, and head. In most cases, this data will be compared to the ICHD-3, the International Classification of Headache Disorders used by all doctors.
From here, a number of possible next steps exist in order to arrive at an accurate diagnosis. Here are a few things that might occur:
- Questionnaires for Migraine Standardized headache questionnaires can help you figure out if you're experiencing migraines. Checking for aura before headaches is one possible step in this direction.
- Radiologic Imaging Injuries and conditions like stroke and tumors can be diagnosed or ruled out with the help of imaging tests like CT scans and MRIs.
- Eye exams Eye strain, especially from staring at a screen for long periods of time, is a known contributor to headaches. It's possible that your headaches are related to issues with your eyesight, so getting an annual eye exam is a good idea. Inflammation and swelling caused by brain tumors, for example, can be detected during a routine eye exam.
- Checking the Blood It is possible to rule out conditions like an infection as a cause of headaches by ordering lab tests.
- Spinal tap Cerebrospinal fluid extracted during a spinal tap can be analyzed to determine if a brain condition like inflammation or bleeding is the source of the patient's headaches.
How to Get Rid of a Headache
The treatment you receive for your headache will differ greatly based on its nature and origin. Some health issues may have clear-cut solutions, while others may require more attention to symptoms than to root causes.
Relieving the Stress of a Headache
Although tension headaches are the most amenable to home treatment, some people suffer from them so frequently that even this isn't an option for them. Chronic headaches can be managed with daily prescription medications like tricyclic antidepressants, and their underlying causes can be treated with acupuncture, therapy, and chiropractic care.
Migraine Headache Relief
The purpose of migraine treatment is to alleviate pain and prevent future attacks. Preventative measures can benefit from avoiding triggers. Triptans, metoprolol, and propranolol are just some of the prescription drugs commonly used to treat and prevent migraines.
How Cluster Migraines Can Be Treated
Oxygen therapy and injectable medications, as well as nasal sprays prescribed for cluster headaches, are common treatments.
A holistic and integrative approach is ideal for treating headaches, as this will help with the symptoms and also get to the root of the problem. From diagnostic imaging and chiropractic care to neurosurgery, our AICA College Park team has you covered. Each specialist will contribute to the development of an individualized and precise treatment strategy. You can finally put an end to your headaches without resorting to drastic measures thanks to the AICA College Park model of care. Get in touch with us right away to schedule an appointment.
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