Relieve headaches scientifically. Part 1. Causes of a headache

Everyone has encountered her. A headache prevents you from doing your favorite and useful things, from interesting work to social communication. Each of us may have our own special methods of how to relieve a headache. But over time, they either stop working or require additional effort. The reason lies in the source of pain and really evidence-based methods that can remove this pain.

The RISE biohacker community is in touch. In this material, we will analyze the main causes of headaches, the mechanisms involved in them, and consider ways to stop pain. The material was written using a podcast from a neuroscientist at Stanford University Andrew Huberman.

Main causes of headache

Each of us may have our own peculiarity of the body. Someone has low blood pressure, and the approaching rain is signified by a lead band around the head. Someone experiences pain inside the head when a deadline approaches or there is a quarrel in the family. What is the reason?

Tissue spasm

Tissue between the brain and skull.  Source: brain neurosurgery textbook

Tissue between the brain and skull. Source: textbook brain neurosurgery

If you want to get rid of a headache for sure, it is important to understand exactly where its source is located. The same is true when it comes to anxiety. You can’t fight it without knowing the reasons. When it comes to spasm, and muscle tension, this headache feels like a tight bandage around the head. And its source, as you might guess, is blood vessels and muscles.

Our skull is literally entwined with muscles that allow us to turn our heads, chew, and express facial expressions. However, these same muscles tend to experience spasms. But, more importantly, it is the muscles that are the key element in provoking different types of headaches. That is, muscles can be both an independent source of pain and its catalyst in other types.

But it’s not the muscles that hurt, but the head! And the causes of headaches are in several layers of tissues that are located both outside the skull and between the brain and the skull. These tissues have their own name – Meningis, respectively, their inflammation is known to us as meningitis.

So, the brain is literally in a dense shell, consisting of several layers of tissue. These tissues need adequate blood supply to function, so a lot of blood vessels and arteries pass through the tissues. Accordingly, changes in pressure, spasm of muscles or blood vessels, will cause the tissues to press against each other, causing a headache. And that very weather sensitivity can be caused by a complex of factors: a decrease in temperature, an increase in external pressure, a cold wind that caused inflammation of facial tissues.

Neural and inflammatory causes of headache

Above, we talked about muscles and tissues that work like half-inflated mattresses stuffed between the brain and the skull. The comparison is crude, but clear. If one of the mattresses is pumped up more, it will put pressure on the rest, causing pain. But there are other mechanisms for the emergence of this unpleasant feeling.

neural pain. Known as cluster headache. It originates in the depths of the brain and can give into the eyes. Such pains are terribly painful, and are caused by excessive nervous tension. And now you feel that the brain is ready to explode from pain. Although he, by nature, does not experience pain, but migraines can cause changes in the brain itself.

The trigeminal nerve, respectively, has three branches. These branches touch areas around the eye, around the nose, and near the upper lip. The pain begins due to overexcitation of the nerve or its inflammation. In addition to pain, pupils may narrow, tearing or a slight runny nose may begin. Therefore, anti-inflammatory pills for a mild or early cold will help prevent a critical decline in activity.

Despite the fact that inflammation can cover the trigeminal nerve, it is worth considering inflammatory processes separately. And in our time, you can hear that inflammation is almost a ticket to the next world. Therefore, you should start with the fact that the inflammatory process is not as terrible as it seems at first glance.

Inflammatory processes are one of the signaling systems of the body, which is provided by cytokines. They are considered inflammatory proteins, although they are rather anti-inflammatory. These proteins accumulate in a specific place, telling the body that something is wrong here.

Accumulation of these proteins in the neck or head can cause pain. Inflammation is accompanied by edema, and if it is systemic, then a headache will be just one of the side symptoms. With all this, we do not consider sinusitis. This is a separate case, to which it is time to devote an independent longread.

Origin of pain

Above, we have analyzed 4 main causes of headache: muscle spasm, expansion and compression of tissues, overexcitation of the trigeminal nerve and inflammatory processes. In any case, the nature of pain itself is the work of the nervous system and the transmission of signal impulses, sometimes even caffeine abuse. And this is worth stopping for a moment.

Three types of neurons at the edge of headache

This is how the body tries to communicate that something is wrong.

This is how the body tries to communicate that something is wrong.

From the published materials, you already know that there are a lot of different neurons in the brain. Some produce dopamine, others produce serotonin, others produce GABA, and so on. But there are three distinct types of neurons that are critical to how the body works.

motor neurons. They control how the muscles work. When walking, typing on the keyboard, they even partially affect the heartbeat and breathing, there are slightly different principles, but motor neurons are also involved in this work.

Sensory neurons. They, like motor neurons, run throughout our body. Their task is to collect and transmit information about everything that happens around us and within us. They distinguish pain and gentle strokes, perceive changes in pressure, etc.

The third type of neurons is modulating neurons. They are intermediaries between sensory and motor neurons. And they partly participate in our learning, creating connections between certain actions, phenomena and the consequences of decisions made. For example, if something suddenly touches the back of your hand, you jerk your hand. This is the result of the work of all three types of neurons.

Why do we talk about types of neurons when we talk about headaches? Take the common type of headache, tissue pain, as an example. Let me remind you, it’s like a lead hoop stretched over your head. And we have three ways to “remove” it:

  • It can affect motor neurons. Thus, we will relax the tissues, relax the muscles, the pressure will decrease and the pain will go away. To do this, you need to take something that relaxes the muscles.

  • You can turn off sensory neurons and stop feeling pain. You will not eliminate the cause, but for some time you may not feel pain.

  • By acting on modulating neurons, you will feel pain, but you will not pay attention to it. It can simply become much weaker, or even disappear without “reaching consciousness.”

Based on the material, we have about seven key factors that can be influenced to get rid of a headache. Which gives us several methods for getting rid of headaches. There is no ideal among them, there are different and peculiarities in the use of each of them and the corresponding limitations, which we will discuss in the following materials.

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