Headaches & Migraines

Headaches are considered to be one of the most disabling forms of pain and it is one of the top reasons why people call out of work sick. In addition, it is one of the most common sources of pain that most people do experience.

Headaches often accompany pain and discomfort around the head and neck but they can also present in many other fashions.  Many patients who suffer headaches may experience tightness around the forehead, eye tension, visual disturbances, auras, jaw pain, ear pain, light, and sound sensitivity.  While this is not the entire list, these are some of the most common symptoms associated with headaches.

What are some common causes of headaches?

By far the most common causes of headaches are tension and discomfort within the neck musculature at the base of the skull.  This type of headache is typically associated with tension headaches.  These types of headaches are often located at the suboccipital muscles which are located at the base of the skull.  Common symptoms often include a one-sided headache that can be at the temple or near the eye.  In addition, you may have a “headband” like headache that goes across the forehead.  The primary muscles within the suboccipital region consist of the Rectus Captiis Posterior Major & Minor, as well as the Obliquees Capitiis Superior & Inferior.  The primary reason these muscles create headaches is that the muscles not only attach to other surrounding muscles/fascia, but they also can create pulling on the surrounding nerves, the vertebrae, and the spinal cord itself.  There is evidence that supports that excess tension within the muscles pulls directly on the dura mater (outer part of the spinal cord), which then creates headaches.

Other common causes of headaches include the following:

  • Poor posture – which creates a lot of mid-back pain and thoracic immobility.  This then contributes to the neck musculature working harder as well as a loss of the cervical curve within the spine.
  • Dehydration – I don’t think this needs much explanation and this can be even linked to excess caffeine intake, alcohol, etc.
  • Stress – Excess stress triggers a lot of chemical reactions in the body including overstimulation of the adrenal glands and also contributes to excess tension in the body.  
  • Lack of Sleep – a lack of restful sleep will not give your brain and body the rest and mental clarity it needs. 
  • Food Sensitivities –  Foods that are toxic or low-level allergies you have to food can easily contribute to headaches.  You often see this in nitrates and sulfite-rich foods as well as processed foods such as alcohol and deli meats. 
  • Hormonal imbalances – Many women who are having menstrual cycles or postmenopausal, experience headaches.  
  • Whiplash / Concussions / Injuries –  It is fairly safe to say that almost all patients I have seen with neck injuries have had some form of headache. The damage to the surrounding musculature and/or injury to the brain heavily contribute to chronic headaches. 

What are the main or most common types of headaches we treat?

  • Tension Headache
  • Migraine Headache
  • Cluster Headache

What are some headache symptoms?

Tension headaches are typically mild to moderate in nature and are associated with tightness around the head, neck, and skull regions.  You can even experience forehead pain, eye pain, head pressure, and upper back pain associated with these headaches.  There can even be mild light and sound sensitivity but these types of headaches typically do not last that long and can range from a few hours to several days.  Again, these are by far the most common types of headaches we see in the clinic that contribute to people seeking treatment.

Migraine Headaches are moderate to severe in nature and can be debilitating at times.  They are often associated with pounding headaches, eye pain, auras, light and sound sensitivity, nausea, vomiting, tenderness within the musculature, fatigue, etc.  These headaches are often seen in our clinic as patients tend to suffer long-term with them.  

Cluster Headaches can be very intense pain and discomfort located around or behind the eye or eye region.  These headaches often are associated with people rocking, pacing, back and forth, and can even feel like you are having a stroke.  These headaches can occur in clusters where they go from mild to severe during a specific period of time.

What does treatment for headaches look like?

Among the most effective natural (non-drug) treatments for headaches include manual therapy to the affected musculature.  When we talk about manual therapy, we also include techniques such as Myofascial Release, Active Release Technique, Graston Technique, etc.  These methods are not necessarily massage techniques, but rather they are specific techniques designed to target the exact muscles affected. Over the decades in the development of these techniques, we have been repeatedly demonstrated to reduce the tension and discomfort with the surrounding muscles that contribute to the headache.  Proper application of these techniques to the suboccipital region, the base of the skull, and upper back are extremely important and beneficial.  

In addition to taking tension of the muscles, a Chiropractic adjustment may be applied to the surrounding vertebrae that may be malpositioned due to the tension of the muscles pulling on the vertebrae.  While most videos of Chiropractors show aggressive techniques, this does not always have to be done with such force or with the cracking sound.  

Finally, it is important to understand that these techniques are very beneficial but knowing which muscles to stretch or strengthen is extremely important for the long-term health of your neck and to help you learn how to manage your own condition.  As a result, we always show exercises/rehab protocols that help restore the curvature to the neck, provide pain relief, and allow you to build strength and better posture. 

How long does treatment take to get results? 

As always, it varies a lot from person to person but I typically start seeing patients who suffer headaches report less intense pain or less frequency of the headaches after about 3 or 4 weeks.  It is very common for the headaches to have “episodes” where it becomes better or worse at times but overall we typically see very good results with tension headaches and migraines.  In addition, there are many times where we see instantly reduced pain and discomfort when patients are having an active headache in the office.

Is there anything else I should know?

I have personally suffered headaches and neck pain as I have sustained a lot of neck injuries, whiplash, and concussions as a prior athlete.  Even to this day, I still get some headaches and treatment to help the tension associated.  So when it comes to headaches and the occasional migraines, not only do I help treat them, but I know what it’s like to suffer from them at times. 

I truly love treating headaches because it’s often very easy to get good results and help someone who has had a lot of pain and discomfort find relief in a short period of time.   I can honestly say that in the last 11+ years in practice with tension headaches as well as migraines and have had thousands of patients have relief.  

If you are looking for someone to help, please send us a message to see if we are a good fit for you!  If you like, you can click here to schedule an appointment.