While we are in the throws of beautiful spring weather all too many moms are hearing the words “Mommy my head hurts”. The question is why and how do we fix it?
Just like adults, children can end up with headaches due to knocks or falls, poor diet, seasonal allergies, a lack of sleep or a lack of water etc. Interestingly, they are also susceptible to stress particularly when it relates to family matters—one such presentation for stress even in children may be headaches or abdominal migraines.
Headaches are a common problem for adults however they also affect a large number of children. A 2006 study reported that over 3.7 million American children between the ages of 4 and 17 experienced headaches in the previous 12 months. Headaches are in fact one of the top 5 health problems experienced by children.
Should I be concerned if my child has a headache? Any headache in a child should bring question as to the child’s health and to what’s the cause. It is possible for headaches in children to come from serious underlying conditions, however this is rare and there are generally other highly concerning signs and symptoms such as paralysis, drowsiness or loss of consciousness. A new headache that is progressively worsening over days to weeks, or a persistent one-sided headache are cause for concern. Most commonly however, childhood headaches are tension-type and migraine, and in 60% of cases they run in the family. Aside from pain and discomfort, childhood headaches can lead to missed days at school, poor school performance and emotional difficulties.
What are potential causes? Headaches can be due to a number of environmental factors including seasonal allergies, food allergies, emotional stress or physical factors like minor traumas to head, neck and spine or ergonomically incorrect repetitive postures. A significant finding in a chiropractic study of thirteen cases found that birth trauma and assisted birth (forceps, vacuum extraction or caesarean) were associated with each case of headache. In this study all children demonstrated significant dysfunction of the upper neck joints and musculature. The authors stated: “Forces of 30-70lbs show transient neurological effects when applied to the upper cervical spine (neck) in infants. The forces exerted upon the cervical spine during assisted deliveries range from 80-100lbs. These forces would likely be sufficient to cause muscular and mechanical joint impairments considering the increased laxity of the infant spine”. Along with damage or irritation of the neck region, the birth process can also lead to jaw problems in infants that are particularly painful when trying to latch and breastfeed. Interestingly, jaw problems and headache often overlap in adults.
How do I help my child? Initially most parents would reach for an over the counter medication to relieve the child’s symptom; however, studies that specifically look at the safety and effectiveness of medication for children are very limited. Several medications are shown to have serious side effects in children and some of the more commonplace medications such as aspirin can have longer-term effects on the integrity of the immune system. Although chiropractic does not treat headaches, many case studies demonstrate that by enhancing the function of the spine and nervous system, headaches and other symptoms may then resolve (5,7,8). In considering the number of children who have difficult births, and the number of children showing strain to the spinal joints and surrounding muscles, it is logical to priorities a chiropractic check-up. In addition to chiropractic, other alternative approaches for chronic headaches that have been shown to be effective include cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation training, and self-hypnosis, specific nutrition programs.
A natural approach for children including chiropractic, good nutrition and play, and mindfulness for reducing stress, may not only help with headaches but bring more energy and vitality into their life!