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Spinal Headache: Causes, Prevention, Treatment & Complications

A spinal headache is not a normal headache. It is triggered when fluid leaks from your spine, messes up the fluid pressure around your brain, and stretches the nerves of your brain, causing head pain

There are some predictable risk factors for getting this type of headache. For instance, spinal headaches occur in a third of people who receive a spinal tap (AKA lumbar puncture).

Learn the ins and outs of spinal headaches, including causes, symptoms, and treatment options. Then you can be prepared for one if you ever have to experience a spinal headache.

What is a spinal headache?

When cerebrospinal fluid leaks from the meninges, your brain tissues and nerves stretch. An intense head pain follows. This is a spinal headache.

These are also known as:

Spinal headaches are often caused by a spinal tap.

A spinal tap is when a doctor or anesthesiologist puts a spinal needle into the spinal canal in the lower back — for several reasons. Sometimes, the needle can leave a puncture site where spinal fluid leaks out of the epidural space.

When CSF leaks and the CSF pressure decreases, it messes up the balance of fluid in which the brain floats. The brain sags downward. The tissues and nerves of the brain stretch. This causes headache pain. And the spinal tap has caused a spinal headache.

The most common reasons you might need a spinal tap are:

Other causes of spinal headaches include a ruptured cyst on the spinal cord and head/face/skull trauma.

Common Symptoms: What does a spinal headache feel like? 

What does a spinal headache feel like? These are the most common symptoms of a spinal headache:

Spinal headaches are typically more severe for people when standing or sitting. Lying down (especially bed rest) often alleviates some of the head pain.

Are spinal headaches dangerous? Spinal headaches are not usually dangerous. Typically, spinal headaches go away within a day, and they do not recur. But in some cases, they can persist for more than a day or lead to life-threatening complications. In these cases, you should consult a specialist right away.

In extremely rare cases, spinal headaches can cause death.

How long does it take for a spinal headache to go away? A spinal headache can last for hours or potentially days. If a headache lasts any longer than a day, you should schedule a consultation immediately. There are rare but life-threatening complications that may arise from persistent spinal headache.

The typical spinal headache should go away within a day. You can seek chiropractic care, use painkillers (preferably all-natural ones with no side effects), or just wait it out.

Unfortunately, spinal headaches share a lot of symptoms with other headaches, such as tension headache or migraine. Knowing the risk factors can help you understand if you are experiencing this type of headache.

Causes & Risk Factors of Spinal Headaches

Here are the risk factors for getting a spinal headache:

Should you seek help?

Spinal headaches usually go away with no treatment. The two out of ten people who suffer from a spinal headache who require some treatment can often relieve pain at home.

But there are a few reasons you should seek help when you get a spinal headache.

When are symptoms serious enough to see a medical professional?

How would a doctor diagnose a spinal headache?

The doctor will conduct a medical history. Make sure to mention if you have had a recent spinal tap.

If you have had a lumbar puncture in the past couple weeks, diagnosis is pretty simple. Testing is not needed.

If you have not had a recent spinal tap, the doctor might use an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to find the origin of your spinal headache. An MRI lets the doctor look in the brain and spine for leaking cerebrospinal fluid.

Can a spinal headache go away on its own? Yes, eight in ten spinal headaches improve without treatment. For those of us trying to avoid chemicals in our body, this is good news.

For the other two out of ten, fret not. There are some natural treatments, such as all-natural painkillers and chiropractic care.

Effective Spinal Headache Remedies

Treating spinal headaches doesn’t have to be complicated. At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we believe in treating the root cause of your headache.

How do you get rid of a spinal headache? Here are some all-natural remedies for spinal headaches.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care is the best way to solve issues with cerebrospinal fluid levels.

Upper cervical chiropractic care is effective at normalizing cerebrospinal fluid pressure. A lot of research supports chiropractic care’s ability to treat headaches.

Chiropractic alignment also reduces the physical stress that can lead to headaches. We have helped so many people recover completely.

Chiropractic care is essential for headache prevention since spinal misalignment and spinal fluid levels contribute to headaches. Studies show that visiting a high-quality chiropractor can reduce the frequency, duration, and intensity of headaches — as well as your reliance on pharmaceuticals.

Hydrate

The first course of treatment should be to hydrate.

Drinking plenty of fluids can increase your cerebrospinal fluid pressure and relieve headache pain. Many doctors will even suggest drinking high-caffeine drinks.

Hydration is not as consistently effective as blood patch treatment.

Blood Patch

A commonly prescribed treatment for spinal headaches is a blood patch.

Also called an epidural blood patch, this is where the patient’s blood is injected into the epidural space. This causes a blood clot that patches up the leak.

70% of people who use a epidural blood patch get rid of their spinal headache pretty quickly. Those who do not improve may require a second blood patch or even specialized stitches.

Blood patches come with the standard minimal risk of any epidural procedure. But its effectiveness outweighs the slight risks.

Surgical Glue or Stitches

In rare cases, a doctor may utilize surgical glue or stitches to patch up the tiny hole in your spinal cord.

This is usually only after blood patches do not fix your spinal headache.

All-Natural Painkillers

Several dietary supplements can help you deal with the headache pain. These don’t treat the root cause of your spinal headache, but pain relief is often a powerful asset.

  1. Lavender oil
  2. Peppermint oil
  3. Rosemary oil
  4. Ginger
  5. Curcumin
  6. Indian frankincense (also called boswellia)
  7. Butterbur
  8. Feverfew

Non-Cutting Needle (Prevention)

When a doctor performs a spinal tap, she/he can opt for a smaller, blunt-tipped spinal needle called a “non-cutting needle” or “atraumatic needle.”

This reduces the risk of leakage, and therefore the risk of spinal headaches.

Rare Spinal Headache Complications

In rare situations, if your spinal headache goes untreated, it can trigger complications, sometimes life-threatening:

Looking to the Future

If you ever have a spinal tap, or head injury, anticipate the possibility of an imbalance of spinal fluid and developing a spinal headache.

Chiropractic care treats and prevents many conditions, including regulating cerebrospinal fluid levels. Consider seeing a chiropractor if you experience persistent headaches.

If you live in the greater Denver area, click here to set up an appointment at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. We reserve Fridays for out-of-town patients.

Only some people will experience these headaches more than once. If you experience recurring spinal headaches, consult a medical professional right away — it might be a warning sign of something life-threatening.

Sources

  1. Ahmed, S. V., Jayawarna, C., & Jude, E. (2006). Post lumbar puncture headache: diagnosis and management. Postgraduate medical journal, 82(973), 713-716. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2660496/
  2. Evans, R. W., Armon, C., Frohman, E. M., & Goodin, D. S. (2000). Assessment: Prevention of post–lumbar puncture headaches: Report of the Therapeutics and Technology Assessment Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 55(7), 909-914. Full text: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.176.5020&rep=rep1&type=pdf
  3. Turnbull, D. K., & Shepherd, D. B. (2003). Post‐dural puncture headache: pathogenesis, prevention and treatment. British journal of anaesthesia, 91(5), 718-729. Full text: https://academic.oup.com/bja/article/91/5/718/253361
  4. Vilming, S. T., & Kloster, R. (1998). Pain location and associated symptoms in post-lumbar puncture headache. Cephalalgia, 18(10), 697-703. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9950628/
  5. Leibold, R. A., Yealy, D. M., Coppola, M., & Cantees, K. K. (1993). Post-dural-puncture headache: characteristics, management, and prevention. Annals of emergency medicine, 22(12), 1863-1870. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8239110
  6. Kuntz, K. M., Kokmen, E., Stevens, J. C., Miller, P., Offord, K. P., & Ho, M. M. (1992). Post‐lumbar puncture headaches: experience in 501 consecutive procedures. Neurology, 42(10), 1884-1884. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1407567/
  7. Mokri, B., Parisi, J. E., Scheithauer, B. W., Piepgras, D. G., & Miller, G. M. (1995). Meningeal biopsy in intracranial hypotension: meningeal enhancement on MRI. Neurology, 45(10), 1801-1807. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7477972/
  8. Tuchin, P. J. (2008). A case of chronic migraine remission after chiropractic care. Journal of chiropractic medicine, 7(2), 66-70. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2682939/
  9. Bernstein, C., Wayne, P. M., Rist, P. M., Osypiuk, K., Hernandez, A., & Kowalski, M. (2019). Integrating Chiropractic Care Into the Treatment of Migraine Headaches in a Tertiary Care Hospital: A Case Series. Global advances in health and medicine, 8, 2164956119835778. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6440032/
  10. Harris, S. P. (2005). Chiropractic management of a patient with migraine headache. Journal of chiropractic medicine, 4(1), 25. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2647030/
  11. Arevalo‐Rodriguez, I., Ciapponi, A., i Figuls, M. R., Munoz, L., & Cosp, X. B. (2016). Posture and fluids for preventing post‐dural puncture headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (3). Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6682345/
  12. Ona, X. B., Osorio, D., & Cosp, X. B. (2015). Drug therapy for treating post‐dural puncture headache. Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (7). Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457875/
  13. Tubben, R. E., & Murphy, P. B. (2019). Epidural blood patch. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482336/
  14. Sasannejad, P., Saeedi, M., Shoeibi, A., Gorji, A., Abbasi, M., & Foroughipour, M. (2012). Lavender essential oil in the treatment of migraine headache: a placebo-controlled clinical trial. European neurology, 67(5), 288-291. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22517298
  15. Borhani Haghighi, A., Motazedian, S., Rezaii, R., Mohammadi, F., Salarian, L., Pourmokhtari, M., … & Miri, R. (2010). Cutaneous application of menthol 10% solution as an abortive treatment of migraine without aura: a randomised, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled, crossed‐over study. International journal of clinical practice, 64(4), 451-456. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20456191
  16. Martins, L. B., Rodrigues, A. M. D. S., Rodrigues, D. F., dos Santos, L. C., Teixeira, A. L., & Ferreira, A. V. M. (2019). Double-blind placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial of ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.) addition in migraine acute treatment. Cephalalgia, 39(1), 68-76. Full text: http://www.naturalhealthresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Ginger-Treatment-for-Acute-Migraine-Headache.pdf
  17. Bulboacă, A. E., Bolboacă, S. D., Bulboacă, A. C., Porfire, A. S., Tefas, L. R., Suciu, Ş. M., … & Stănescu, I. C. (2019). Liposomal Curcumin Enhances the Effect of Naproxen in a Rat Model of Migraine. Medical science monitor: international medical journal of experimental and clinical research, 25, 5087. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6636407/
  18. Takayama, Y., Derouiche, S., Maruyama, K., & Tominaga, M. (2019). Emerging Perspectives on Pain Management by Modulation of TRP Channels and ANO1. International journal of molecular sciences, 20(14), 3411. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6678529/
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Dr. Ty Carzoli

Denver Chiropractor Dr. Ty Carzoli, located in Glendale near Cherry Creek and Wash Park, offers the best in research-based pain relief and wellness care, with an emphasis on gentle treatment delivery. Dr. Carzoli is honored to be the only Chiropractic Orthospinologist in the state of Colorado. The mission of Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic is to help community members have a better life, regardless of their age, vitality level or physical condition. Our practice is family-friendly and caters to the comfort and well-being of every practice member — from infants to seniors.
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Click here to view our glowing patient testimonials. Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic delivers results when conventional doctors say it’s impossible.

5.0

Based on 139 reviews.

Dr.Ty Carzoli is extremely professional, punctual and informative. The office is clean and organized. My treatments from him have allowed me to think towards the future, not just day to day. Overall, a great experience!

Leslie Goodman

I absolutely LOVE going to Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. Dr. Ty knows his stuff and I've never felt better. His style of chiropractic care has improved my sleeping, mood, and fitness capacity. Plus, they are really great at making me feel appreciated. See super sweet picture from my birthday. I would HIGHLY recommend giving them a try, but only if you really want to improve how you feel.

Carla Streff

Overall, I didn’t necessarily feel that I had any particular issues other than a prior shoulder injury that slightly bothered me when I exercised with a heavy set of weights. I felt fairly energetic due to the typical routine of exercise and eating a well balanced healthy diet. The idea for my treatment was to be more proactive about my long term health and ensure that I was in proper alignment.
After my initial consultation, I found out my body was out of alignment more than I felt. I did not feel much different after the first few adjustments; however, what I did not realize until a few weeks in is that I had been waking up prior to treatment with kind of a groggy kind of feeling. After years of waking up like this I assumed this was just the norm. I now have been waking up with little fatigue and grogginess (even with a 10 month old baby) and a new burst of revitalization even if I did not get a full 8 hours of sleep. The feeling of being excited the day before a trip has been occurring on the standard day getting up for work. My workouts have also seen an improvement with the new improved energy levels as well as the standard weight I typically lift went up with little efforts.
Dr. Ty is extremely knowledgeable about what he does and would not think about using anyone else for my care. I love walking into the awesome environment that Dr. Ty has established and the overall care that comes from the visits. Dr. Ty and his fantastic staff has an amazing energy that I very much look forward to when visiting the office!
Even if you think that you have a good alignment, you should be sure to visit Dr. Ty for a great proactive health care plan!

Derek Greer

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Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic | 303-955-8270