Millions of Americans suffer from unilateral or left-sided headaches on a routine basis. While there are many different classifications for headaches, understanding the potential risk factors and treatment options is essential for lasting relief.
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While many known triggers for left-sided headaches exist, one of the most common and often overlooked is spinal stress. If spinal factors are not considered in a comprehensive understanding of left-sided headaches, then a vital component of your overall condition may be misdiagnosed.
Left-sided headaches can be characterized in several different ways, and maybe classified as migraine, tension, or cluster type headaches. Generally, patients with left-sided headaches will describe one of two scenarios that describe their symptoms:
1. a gradual progression of tension in the left shoulder, neck, face, and head that leads to a headache
2. sharp or stabbing pain in the left side of the face, head, or behind the eye
The common theme with both of these scenarios is a unilateral or one-sided presentation that builds to maximal intensity over minutes or hours. If this describes a scenario that you are familiar with and you are experiencing left-sided headaches the following information will help you to determine if your symptoms are related to or caused by neck-related dysfunction.
How is the neck related to left-sided headaches?
The upper cervical spine is the very top of the spine and has several unique characteristics that make it vulnerable to injury. As the most movable part of the spine, the upper neck does not have intervertebral discs, interlocking joints, and large muscle tissues that provide stability and strength in the lower spine.
As such, this area is susceptible to injury from slips and falls, sports collisions, motor vehicle accidents, and whiplash-type forces. As the “weakest link” in the spine, the upper cervical spine is subject to the effects of spinal stress to a greater degree than the middle or lower back.
The upper portion of the spine is also closely related to vital nerves and blood vessels of the head and neck which can become impacted by improper alignment and mechanics.
The trigeminal nerve along with its bundle of nerves in the lower skull is responsible for sensation and motor control of a large portion of the face and head along with the facial nerve. These nerves begin in the brainstem which resides that the base of the skull and upper neck.
Mechanical stress in this part of the spine, therefore, can produce local irritation and inflammation that negatively impacts these sensitive nerve structures. The result is a hypersensitivity or irritation which then produces abnormal symptoms along the nerve course.
This means that key symptoms related to left-sided headache can be stemming from an “upstream” cause along the course of the nerves of the face and upper neck. In the same way that a pinched nerve can result in numbness and tingling in the fingers, understanding the course of nerves throughout the body provides clues to the potential points of irritation.
How to know if your left-sided headaches are related to spinal stress
To make it very practical, if you can answer “yes” to any or multiple of the following questions, your left-sided headaches may be related to cervical spine stress:
- Have you experienced a car accident in the past 10-15 years?
- Have you ever experienced a concussion?
- Does your left-sided headache include muscle tension around the neck and shoulder?
- Do you experience clicks, pops, or “gravely” sounds when making movements of the head and neck?
- Do you experience left-sided headaches after sitting and working on a computer for extended periods of time?
If one or more of these criteria are true for you, then your left-sided headaches may be cervicogenic. Cervicogenic simply means “coming from the neck” and is very common in left-sided headaches.
What do you do to fix neck-related left-sided headaches?
Within the chiropractic profession, there is a group of qualified Doctors who are focused specifically on the neck region called upper cervical Doctors. The Blair Upper Cervical technique is a comprehensive system of analysis and correction for the cervical spine that has helped many patients with left-sided headaches to find lasting relief.
A Blair Upper Cervical Chiropractor will perform the following procedures to determine if your left-sided headaches are a symptom of neck issues:
- Consultation – hearing your story, concerns, goals, and experiences and describing your treatment options to determine if this is the right option for you
- Evaluation – performing objective testing to measure spinal displacement, nerve system dysfunction, structural imbalance, and more
- Diagnostic Imaging – your spinal structures are like fingerprints – unique to you. Precision imaging (X-rays or CBCT) will be performed to make an accurate diagnosis if your condition. These images provide the blueprint for correction based on your unique situation
- Precision adjustment – the upper cervical adjustment will follow all of these procedures with the goal of improving the mechanics and alignment of the upper cervical spine. The adjustments are performed with very minimal force (6-8 pounds of pressure) and absolutely no twisting, popping, or cracking of the neck or back
- An individualized plan of correction – you will receive detailed recommendations from your Doctor about how to achieve lasting relief
I’m unsure about chiropractic care, can I just talk with the Doctor first?
Absolutely! In fact, Blair Upper Cervical Doctors are happy to provide a complimentary consultation to address your questions and concerns prior to any treatment. Simply search for the closest Blair Upper Cervical Doctor near you using the search function on the top of the page and request a consultation.