This diagram illustrates the Trigeminal Nerves. These nerves transmit information to the head, face, jaw, forehead and temples and are most likely to be responsible for the pain that comes with Tension Headaches, Migraines, Trigeminal Neuralgia and Cluster Headaches.
Scanned on MRI in patients suffering from such conditions, these nerves can all look normal. In fact, they look as beautiful as the picture above. However, patients can be in excruciating pain! The key is that we need to look deeper than what can be seen on these pictures to really understand what is happening.
What you can’t see is that all of these nerves merge together in your brainstem for processing. Additionally, the nerves from the top three vertebrae of your neck also merge here, creating a mass of complex nerve connections, intermingled together!
Interestingly, even though our brain is amazingly clever, with such a complex web of nerves coming together for processing, it can often get the signals wrong. Pain messages from the neck can be read incorrectly by the brain which thinks it is head pain, eye, jaw, or even sinus pain. A similar scenario would be when a patient experiencing a heart attack will complain of arm pain – the problem is in the heart not the arm! The brain can get confused.
As the nerves become intermingled in the brainstem, the pain signals from your neck are misinterpreted by your brain, sending pain messages to other areas of your head in the form of Migraines, Tension Headaches, Cluster Headaches or even Trigeminal Neuralgia. More often than not, it is the upper neck nerves that are the culprit, not the nerves over the skull.
The important message to remember is that with correct diagnosis and treatment by an experienced headache/migraine practitioner, patients can overcome Migraines, Tension Headaches, Cluster Headaches and Trigeminal Neuralgia. Watson Headache® Practitioners are trained specifically to assess your neck to determine if a problem there is causing your headache issues. Techniques including gentle mobilisations that reproduce your familiar headache symptoms are key to targeting the cause of your headaches. Individually-prescribed head/neck exercises can maintain the improvement long term and minimise the use of medications.