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Exertional Headache

Your husband is suffering from exertional headache. These headaches occur, as the name suggests, after some exertion, such as walking upstairs quickly, coughing, during exercise, or, as in your husband’s case, making love.
The underlying problem is that, at some point in your husband’s life, probably within the past ten years, he has had a trauma that has caused a whiplash injury to the neck. This is usually brought about by falling downstairs, a skiing or road accident, lots of dental work, excessive use of computers, too much driving, or banging one’s head on something hard. The trauma would have shifted a vertebra in the neck out of alignment.

The neck is a flexible and fragile part of the spine. We have to be able to move it freely, up, down and sideways. That means the cervical vertebrae, the ones in the neck, are flexible compared to the lower back where movement to the sides is restricted. But this inherent flexibility means the neck is also susceptible to injuries.

The lower back can withstand a lot of strain and jerking about, such as you get when playing tennis or jumping or falling down. But if the neck is jerked, it invariably means trouble. Small vertebrae, particularly the third one in the cervical spine, get easily misaligned. In side the lateral projections (the small, rounded outcroppings) on either side of the cervical vertebrae, there is a channel called the vertebral canal, through which the vertebral arteries and veins pass. These are the most important blood vessels of the body. The vertebral arteries feed the subconscious part of the brain, where the control centres of all the autonomous functions of the body are located. These include heartbeat, digestion, temperature control and hormone regulation – all, obviously, essential to our lives, but ‘involuntary’, meaning we never think about doing them. If the vertebrae are shifted, it results in a kink or twist in these vital arteries.

When there is exertion, as in intercourse, the body needs more oxygen, so the heartbeat goes up and the speed at which blood flows through the arteries increases. If there is a kink in the vertebral arteries, it causes turbulence and resistance in the blood flow – think of what happens to the water when there’s a kink in your garden hose. So, just when the brain needs more blood, the supply is cut down – hence your husband’s headache.

Very often, such a headache pulsates, because the blood flow is erratic. Beta-blockers slow down the heart rate and so, control the headache; however, as you say, they do not come without side effects.

    My recommendation is that you apply some tender loving care instead:

  • At bedtime, massage your husband’s neck and shoulders with Biotique Lifestyle Oil. Use your thumbs and fingers to grasp his neck on either side. Between the nape of the neck and the shoulders, about one third of the way down, you’ll find a slight protrusion on one or other side of the spine. He is likely to find this painful. Massage this point with your thumb or finger. Reassure him that, as you do so, the pain will subside. Then massage all the muscles at the sides and back of the neck, do this for five to ten minutes every night.
  • Now ask your husband to lie on his back on the floor. Roll up a towel and put it under the base of his neck. Sitting behind him, hold the back of the skull (called the occiput) with both hands, and gently but firmly stretch it towards you and away from his torso. This will help to release his neck. During this movement, he should breathe in and out slowly and deeply, to make it as effective as possible. When you have finished the massage and the manual traction, let your husband return the favour.

    I also suggest that he:

  • Takes one tablet of relaxation formula, after the evening meal; plus ten drops of valerian tincture in a glass of water ten minutes before making love, to relax his muscles and induce a feeling of calmness.
  • Sees a qualified chiropractor or osteopath.
  • Practises yoga. In my book Therapeutic Yoga, co-written by Jiwan Brar, which is available from the YOU Bookshop and from my online shop , there is a section on headache, which gives advice on yoga postures that will help to relieve your husband’s current pain and prevent future discomfort.

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