Everything you need to know about headaches

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Headaches are a common problem that practitioners at Pure Body Balance encounter and treat. For patients, these headaches can impact their daily life and when they begin to occur frequently and for extended periods of time they can cause lost time at work, limit recreational activities and be damaging to personal relationships. It is important to realize not all headaches are the same and they often have different causes from person to person. In order to provide long term relief the underlying causes of these headaches must be addressed, so it is important to know what is causing your pain.


One common cause of headaches is muscle tension. These headaches can produce dull, constant pain on both sides of the head. The cause of these headaches is related to muscle tension (tightening) in the head, face and neck. Quite often these headaches begin slowly but they may last from a couple hours to days.


Has your head been pounding or throbbing? If so you may be experiencing a vascular headache. When blood vessels supplying the brain and muscles in the head/neck become constricted, a person will feel this pounding or throbbing. The constriction of those blood vessels may be caused by swelling in the muscles of the head/neck area. An increase in activity will intensify these headaches. Why? Because blood carries oxygen to your tissues, the more active you are the more oxygen the tissues need. If the blood vessels are constricted, not enough oxygen reaches the tissues. These headaches can last from 4 to 72 hours, common symptoms include vision problems, sensitivity to light, and nausea. Migraines, cluster headaches and headaches that result from high blood pressure are all types of vascular headaches.

Lifestyle factors that may cause headaches

  • Poor posture
  • Stress
  • Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
  • Alcohol
  • Certain foods, for example processed meats that contain nitrates
  • Skipped meals

Conditions that may cause headaches

  • Whiplash
  • Concussions
  • Dehydration
  • Trauma to muscles, ligaments or bones
  • Inflammation or degeneration of the cervical spine
  • Trigger points
  • Nerve damage to the brain, spinal cord or body

Treatments to treat and relieve headaches


Many conditions such as whiplash, inflammation or degeneration of the cervical spine and trauma associated with injuries to muscles, ligaments or bones can be treated by your Chiropractor. In the case of chronic headaches, until the underlying condition is treated the headaches will re appear. Chronic headaches tend to have multiple contributing factors. Chiropractors with their extensive knowledge of neck and back related conditions can provide relief while working to address the underlying condition.

Numerous research studies have shown that chiropractic adjustments are very effective for treating tension headaches, especially headaches that originate in the neck.

A report released in 2001 by researchers at the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham, NC, found that “spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those headaches that originate in the neck, and had significantly fewer side effects and longer-lasting relief of tension-type headache than commonly prescribed medications.” These findings support an earlier study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics that found spinal manipulative therapy to be very effective for treating tension headaches. This study also found that those who stopped chiropractic treatment after four weeks continued to experience a sustained benefit in contrast to those patients who received pain medication.

Each individual’s case is different and requires a thorough evaluation before a proper course of chiropractic care can be determined. However, in most cases of tension headaches, significant improvement is accomplished through manipulation of the upper two cervical vertebrae, coupled with adjustments to the junction between the cervical and thoracic spine. This is also helpful in most cases of migraine headaches, as long as food and lifestyle triggers are avoided as well.

Who to see

Massage therapy can help provide relief to both muscle tension and vascular headaches. Massage therapy eases muscle tension, relieves muscle spasms, releases shortened muscle and relieve tension in the muscles of the head, shoulders and neck. By relieving tension pressure on nerves and blood vessels is reduced, this allows blood circulation and oxygen delivery to improve.

A major cause of headaches is anxiety and stress both of which can be relieved by massage. Regular massage therapy can help prevent headaches from occurring and help to reduce overall stress, helping reduce frequency and severity of headaches.

Who to see

What can you do to avoid headaches?

By combining treatment of the cause and by being aware of triggers you will greatly reduce the frequency, duration and severity of your headaches.

Headache triggers to avoid

  • Stress may be a trigger, but certain foods, odors, menstrual periods, and changes in weather are among many factors that may also trigger headache.
  • Emotional factors such as depression, anxiety, frustration, letdown, and even pleasant excitement may be associated with developing a headache.
  • Keeping a headache diary will help you determine whether factors such as food, change in weather, and/or mood have any relationship to your headache pattern.
  • Repeated exposure to nitrite compounds can result in a dull, pounding headache that may be accompanied by a flushed face. Nitrite, which dilates blood vessels, is found in such products as heart medicine and dynamite, but is also used as a chemical to preserve meat. Hot dogs and other processed meats containing sodium nitrite can cause headaches.
  • Eating foods prepared with monosodium glutamate (MSG) can result in headache. Soy sauce, meat tenderizer, and a variety of packaged foods contain this chemical which is touted as a flavor enhancer.
  • Headache can also result from exposure to poisons, even common household varieties like insecticides, carbon tetrachloride, and lead. Children who ingest flakes of lead paint may develop headaches. So may anyone who has contact with lead batteries or lead-glazed pottery.
  • Foods that are high in the amino acid tyramine should also be avoided, such as ripened cheeses (cheddar, brie), chocolate, as well as any food pickled or fermented foods.
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