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Red wine headache ? excess or a pain in the neck?


Suffering from a headache the morning after drinking red wine is a very common experience for many of us, especially during the festive season!

But are these headaches the result of excess and part of a hangover. Why do some people suffer from a headache even after as little as one glass of red wine?

A debate has raged for years on the cause of red wine headaches are caused by sulfites, tannins, histamines, or tyramines but the evidence does not support a single aetiology.

In all likelihood, a Red Wine Headache (RWH) is caused by a combination of multiple factors that affect different people to variable degrees.

An RWH may not be caused by drinking to excess but may be referred from the neck. Headaches referred from the neck are cervicogenic in origin and can be associated with a broad range of symptoms.

So how can red wine cause a cervicogenic headache and can Osteopathy/Physiotherapy help?

Cervical dysfunction a major cause of headaches!

The referral of pain from the upper cervical spine is accepted as a significant cause of headaches, with two major contributing factors:

  • Acute trauma to the cervical spine, such as that seen in motor vehicle accidents, has an obvious mechanical cause. The damage to the structures of the cervical spine involved in motor vehicle accidents can be extensive, and reflect the significant forces involved in these accidents.
  • Poor posture and sedentary occupations, particularly those using computers for long periods of time, have a high incidence of headaches, associated with upper back and neck pain. The static sitting and stooping postures associated with desk-bound work can cause significant problems over a long period of time.

So how can red wine cause a cervicogenic headache?

  • Like all alcohol, red wine has an inflammatory property.
  • Some people may have a strong inflammatory response to histamine and tyramine, which may trigger an RWH.
  • The combination of sulfites and dehydration can deplete B vitamins and set off a migraine.
  • Tannins can trigger level fluctuations in serotonin, which may be the cause of some chronic headaches.
  • Tannins also lead to the release of prostaglandins substances that can contribute to pain and swelling, and may induce headaches.
  • Dehydration causes not only the loss of fluids, but essential vitamins and minerals, and electrolytes, which can cause headaches.
  • There is also a tendency for people to sleep longer and move less at night after consuming some wine that evening.

Add these factors to a history of long periods of sitting at a desk and you have enough of a problem to cause a headache.

So how can you stop these headaches from occurring?

  • Avoiding excess some headaches are the result of a hangover!
  • Drink plenty of water at least match glass for glass!
  • If you have a favoured wine that doesn’t give you a headache stick with it!
  • Some people advocate a non-drowsy anti-histamine to inhibit the inflammatory response to amines.
  • An analgesic like aspirin may inhibit the release of prostaglandins.
  • Take a vitamin B supplement.
  • Look after your neck!

You should also look after your neck to prevent headaches. Prevention can include good posture, regular gentle stretching, as well as using a good supportive pillow, and not falling asleep on the couch!

However, if headaches are common

Frequent headaches are an indication that all is not well, and that there is potential for problems even without the help of the wine. Consulting a Perfect Balance Osteopath or Physiotherapist for an assessment and treatment will help determine if indeed the neck is contributing to the headaches. Treatment may include mobilisations, massage, stretches, and specific exercises that have been found to be highly effective in resolving headaches of cervicogenic origin.

Don’t forget your glass of water with your glass of wine!

Have a safe and happy festive season CHEERS!

For more information about Red Wine Headaches

This article was written by our team of specialist therapists at Perfect Balance Clinic. If you would like more specific advice about how our team can help you with this condition or symptoms you may be having, please complete the contact form below and one of the team will get back to you shortly.

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