Friday, January 1, 1999

Headaches Runners Need to Know: "Why?"

by Dr. Timothy J. Maggs, © 1999

Of the many maladies runners suffer with, none should get the level of sympathy that chronic headaches command. The perfect punishment for a worst enemy, who happens to suffer with headaches, is to make them run step after pounding step for 5 miles a day, as their head explodes with each and every stride.

Many runners today suffer with both constant and intermittent headaches, and unfortunately, many doctors seem to miss the boat with regard to accurate or beneficial diagnoses. Any doctor who just writes a prescription in the absence of proper testing should----well, should be injected with headache juice and forced to run 5 miles per day.

Know the Cause

If any treatment is ever recommended for your headache without a full description of the cause of the headache, feel free to exit quickly and go to Doctor #2. Headaches can be caused by a host of problems, and to ignore the exact cause for "relief only" borders on lunacy. You must know why you have your headache before you can ever work to correct the cause. Some doctors out there forgot that "cause" matters. And for many Americans, they've never thought in terms of "cause". But, if symptomatic relief is the level your bar is at, you stand the distinct possibility of getting worse with time and finding that the level of medication you take today won't even begin to touch your pain tomorrow.

There are several common causes of headaches. Most people who suffer with headaches suffer with one or more of these conditions. You must use a doctor who is skilled in the following areas to hope for an accurate diagnosis and treatment; blood sugar, hormonal imbalances, stress and subluxations of the joints of the cervical spine (neck). Although there are more severe disease processes which can cause headaches, such as brain tumors and aneurysms, it is most common to have the more correctable causes listed above as the underlying criminal

With blood sugar and hormonal imbalances as the cause, diet plays a significant role in improving the condition. Although it is very difficult to eat a great diet these days, (a great diet consists of whole grains, seasonal vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts), it is much easier to supplement your diet with nutritional supplementation specific for your needs. In this situation, there are dietary tests which can be given to determine what hormonal imbalances exist or what specific blood sugar problem is present. For example, blood sugar involves the liver, adrenal glands, pancreas and digestive organs. Many, many people suffer with imbalances in the blood sugar system and will never find resolution until they nutritionally balance their diets. The answer is to do as well as you can with your diet and then be willing to supplement for specific weaknesses.

If any testing is needed, a 5 hour glucose tolerance test (GTT) is the most accurate test to give the specific information needed. Most medical doctors frown on the 5 hour GTT as the only information you'll find after the 3rd hour is that your blood sugar drops significantly. This is critical information, but, if low blood sugar is found, the only effective treatment is dietary. Most M.D.'s are not trained to think nutritionally, so their interest in finding low blood sugar is minimal. A 3 hour GTT or a 2 hour post-prandial is virtually worthless unless you have diabetes.

Now, if blood sugar or hormonal imbalances aren't the cause, then think in terms of your neck and the base of the skull, especially if you've suffered with some prior neck trauma, like a whiplash injury. This area of the body has a tremendous influence over all of the body, and any misalignment or fixation of the joints at the top of the spine can pinch nerves that will cause headaches. In fact, many migraines are a result of the atlas (the top bone of the spine) being in an abnormal position. If the headache occurs over one or both eyes, think in terms of the 2nd bone, the axis, as being out of position, as there is a nerve that exits near the axis and affects this area. Any mis-alignment of that bone will produce an irritation of that nerve.


For the majority of headaches, I would recommend two providers, a nutrition oriented health care provider and a chiropractor familiar with runners. Make sure whoever you go to gives you a specific cause and treatment schedule. If it's nutritional, get an idea of what you can expect. If it's structural, make sure you can see the misalignment on the x-ray. If it's blood sugar, make sure you see the 5 hour GTT results that show a drop in blood sugar (below 70 at any point). Be careful with anyone who recommends symptomatic treatment without verification of your condition.

And last but not least, never stop searching for the answer to life. It is out there.

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