An Integrative Approach to Chronic Pain: Headaches

During my 7 years of competition with the Canadian alpine ski team, I experienced several injuries, the most frustrating of which were the insidious injuries that seemed to appear out of nowhere. These injuries could last for months to years, and usually required multiple treatments to heal. Because one treatment alone was rarely effective, I began to think that there was more than one cause for these problems. It was for this reason that I decided to become an integrated health care professional, utilizing expertise from several different areas to help people experience better health.

Many chronic problems have more than one cause: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease, asthma, headaches, overuse injuries, back and neck pain, irritable bowel, PMS, and psoriasis, are all examples of problems that have more than one cause or contributing factor. Common sense dictates that the assessment and treatment of such problems should be multifactoral. For example, an integrative assessment of the patient with chronic headaches would consider the following factors:

• Inactivity or obesity

• Overweight individuals that don't exercise experience more health problems, including headaches

• Blood pressure

• High blood pressure or sudden changes in blood pressure can increase your likelihood of head pain

• Hormonal imbalance

• Migraines occur more in women, and they will often notice their pain fluctuates with menses

• Blood sugar imbalance

• Fluctuations in blood sugar can lead to the vascular constriction or dilation that is often associated with headaches

• Stress and cognitive influences

• Those who experience anxiety or depression, experience more headaches

• Neck problems

• The upper two vertebrae in your neck can cause an increase in head pain when they are dysfunctional

• TMJ problems or dental problems

• Food sensitivities

• Environmental sensitivities

• Poor posture and work position

• Poor vision or eye problems

• Infection or cancer

• Drug interactions

• Inflammatory disease

• Past trauma/ accidents

A multifactoral assessment allows the health provider to look at your health from a ‘bird's eye view', and focus treatments on the areas of your health that might contribute to your pain. Treatments could include physical therapies, supplements, therapeutic exercise, specific herbs, a special diet, or cognitive behaviour therapies. However, without an integrated assessment of your health, your treatment may be one sided, and may fail to address weaknesses in your complete health picture. It is for this reason that I recommend an integrated approach for your chronic problems, the prevention of disease, and for the pursuit of your optimum health status.

Ryan Oughtred