What Is The Cause Of Your Headache?

I man with a tension headache.
Most headaches are attributed to increased tension.  However, many other factors may be contributing.  Allergies to something in the air or to certain foods can trigger headache symptoms.  Hormonal imbalances and fluctuations are also potential causes and tend to occur more in women.  On rare occasions, serious problems may be at play.  These problems can be, but aren't limited to, vascular injury (stroke, aneurysm, claudication), head trauma (concussion), or cancer.  We must stress that these are rare cases but they are addressed via a history and examination.  The following is a brief list potential factors:
  • Tension Related/Cervicogenic
  • Migraine Related
  • Allergy Related
  • Vascular Related
  • Hormone Related

Why Do You Get Tension Headaches?

Tension headaches typically involve the muscles and joints of the head and neck.  When muscles get shortened, or "tight", they often create trigger points leading to myofascial pain syndrome.  Often simultaneously, the joints within the neck and upper become restricted and lack mobility.  The real question is how do the muscles and joints become dysfunctional in the first place?  We tend to believe that there is a triad of factors that create tension.  This triad consists of poor posture (often called upper cross posture), poor breathing habits, and jaw clenching with a high likelihood that all three coincide together.  Click Here to read more about the tension headache triad.  The following is an illustration that shows the relationship of triggers points within the head, neck, and jaw and tension headaches.

A diagram showing trigger point referral patterns of the cervical spine.

(1)Travell JG, Simons DG. Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction, The Trigger Point Manual, Vol. 1. Baltimore. Williams and Wilkins. 1993

Upper cross posture is a fancy term for slouched shoulders and a forward positioned head.  With the advent of technology, more and more of us are having out in these positions on a consistent basis.  Click here to read about "Text Neck".  In addition, we see a growing trend of poor breathing strategies.  Ideally, we should breathe with our diaphragm (akin to belly breathing).  Instead, we are chest and neck breathers that also have a habit of shallow breathing and breath holding.  Many of these examples are dysfunctions that we have had most of our life which makes it difficult to correct.

How Do You Treat A Tension Headache?

There are various ways to address the muscles and joints of the head and neck.  An individual can utilize items such as tennis balls and lacrosse balls to apply prolonged pressure to the tender spots within the muscles.  They can also work on strengthening the area while at the gym.  However, self treatment may not be enough.  The expertise of a professional may be needed.  We use a combination of chiropractic adjustments and soft tissue therapy to address problem areas.  We often focus on the muscles of the jaw and back of the head to yield the greatest results.  However, we believe treatment will only take you so far.  Functional rehabilitation and focused strengthening are crucial in limited bad habits and making long term changes.  We are firm believers that nobody deserves to live with headaches but we find that many seem to be content with them.  That is until they finally get relief which causes them to sing a different tune!

What If It's Not Tension Related?

As mentioned above, headaches can manifest as a result of other sources.  At Elite Chiropractic and Performance, we implement a comprehensive screening and evaluation in order to rule out any potential red flags.  For non threatening things such as food allergies and sensitivities, a dietary consult may help identify any triggers.  However, vascular and hormonal causes are referred to a medical specialist for further evaluation.

As you may have noticed, not much has been said about migraines.  Migraines are somewhat of an enigma.  Not much is known regarding the exact cause and mechanism.  Some individuals respond well to medication.  Others, chiropractic and massage may do the trick.  As with other headaches, identifying "triggers" can be crucial in order to minimize occurrences.

A picture showing details of a blood clot in the brain.