At this stage we don't have any strong evidence that increase in the use of technology directly increases chronic headaches. But from the anecdotal perspective from those working in clinical practice, we do see more people coming in complaining of headache and its impact on their health and wellbeing is a growing concern.
Migraine is a common condition, but not all strong headaches are migraines. Migraines symptoms include nausea and vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to smells, lights and sounds, and visual disturbances. Sometimes a migraine can present with one or any of these symptoms, but no pain.
There is a continuum from mild, moderate to the more severe headaches like migraine. Chronic headache can be caused by other medical problems.
Cervicogenic headache, for example, is caused by problems in the neck, and the aspects of a modern lifestyle where we are generally more sedentary, our recreational activities are focused around passive forms of entertainment and we have largely desk-based jobs with a greater reliance on the use of technology, we have seen an increase in people with neck and shoulder problems - and that might be an associated cause of the observed increase in chronic headaches.
Living lifestyles with reduced activity can make us more susceptible to muscle weakening and posture-related issues.
This combined with extended use of technology devices that can hold us in ergonomically disadvantageous positions, and the performance of repetitive movements in a limited workspace, can lead to the development of chronic pain conditions.
A few simple things make the biggest difference in terms of the impact of pain in people's lives. My tips are:
- Ensure your workstation is set up ergonomically
- Take regular breaks from your work: change tasks, stretch, go for a walk
- Ensure adequate sleep, nutrition and exercise (between 100-200 mins per week)
There also are psychological comorbidities that occur in people with chronic pain conditions, principally depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance. Individuals can get into a vicious cycle where these conditions can feed each other - so access to a clinical psychologist is part of a quality treatment plan for those with chronic pain.
How can I treat my headaches?
Medication can improve the lives of those experiencing chronic headaches, but it needs to be prescribed appropriately and should be considered only once all of the relevant lifestyle factors have been corrected.
One of the mistakes that people with chronic neck pain in particular make is thinking this can all be solved with the so-called "passive treatments" like soft tissue massage or ultrasound - these approaches can be good for short-term pain relief, but they don't lead to long-term improvement in either pain or function. Beneficial exercises could include hydrotherapy, gym work or exercises done at home.
There are more advanced treatment options for those who have tried and failed with the standard approaches. Dermal fillers, calcitonin gene-related peptide receptor antagonists, and interventional procedures such as neuromodulation (implantable devices for chronic pain) and even neurosurgery are options that have all emerged in recent years as the work on chronic headache continues.
If your daily headache is occurring more frequently, with greater intensity and it is starting to adversely affect your ability to be yourself then it's worthwhile getting an expert opinion from a neurologist or pain specialist.
- Today's answer is provided by Melbourne pain medicine specialist Dr Richard Sullivan, through HealthShare, a digital company dedicated to improving the health of regional Australians. Submit questions, and find more answers, at healthshare.com.au.