The Different Types of Headaches & How Chiropractic Can Help

Are you a headache sufferer?

A whopping 59 percent of Canadian adults report suffering from some form of headache. Are you one of them?

Often debilitating, headaches are an unpleasant discomfort, pain or pressure that can be addressed by manual therapies, relaxation and rest, hydration and even short-term use of pain medication.

Yet, in severe cases, the pain can be unbearable and last for many hours or even days. In 2010, an estimated 2.7 million Canadians reported being diagnosed with a migraine headache. And research indicates that the actual number of migraine sufferers is likely underestimated since not everyone seeks care and receives a diagnosis from a healthcare professional.

Instead, many Canadians search the internet to self-diagnose and self-manage. But like many sources of pain, the causes of headaches are not all alike and as such, the remedies also differ.

Here are a few common types of headaches:

Tension Headaches

The most common type of headache, tension headaches are characterized as diffuse, dull, aching pain typically described as tightness around the head. Not surprisingly, the most common trigger for tension headaches is stress. Generally, this type of headache can be managed by decreasing your stress, applying a cold or hot pack and improving your posture. Conservative care, like chiropractic, can also help relieve symptoms and prevent a recurrence.

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches can present differently from person to person. Symptoms may include disturbed vision, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light, and are often accompanied by sensory warning symptoms (aura). Sufferers may need to lie down in a darkened room until the symptoms ease. The causes of migraine headaches are not yet known, but there are a number of triggers that are associated with migraines including stress, sleep deprivation, changes in the environment and certain foods. A migraine can last hours or even days.

Cervicogenic Headaches

A cervicogenic headache is classified as a secondary headache because the pain is referred from structures of the neck. Since the origin is usually related to the cervical spine, managing pain can include manual therapy and recommended at-home exercise to address postural issues and dysfunction.

What causes headaches?

The causes of migraines and other types of headaches are not entirely known. Commonly, joint dysfunction, muscle tightness and poor posture can lead to the development of pain and specifically headaches. The changing barometric pressure that accompanies an abrupt shift in the weather is also thought to trigger migraines.

Headache triggers to avoid, when possible:

  • Stress
  • Alcohol
  • Skipping meals
  • Dehydration
  • Loud, sustained noise
  • Sleep deprivation

Treatment for Headaches

Depending on the type of headache, your healthcare practitioner may recommend spinal manipulation, soft tissue therapy, home exercise, relaxation and/or nutritional counselling.

How do chiropractors help with headaches?

Chiropractors can assess, diagnose, and manage headaches. Current evidence suggests that chiropractic care, including manual therapy, can be effective in treating cervicogenic and tension headaches. Studies have also shown that chiropractic care can help decrease the intensity and frequency of migraines.

  • The treatment options may include:
  • Manual therapy
  • Soft tissue therapy
  • Modalities including electrical stimulation, acupuncture, and ultrasound
  • Rehabilitation
  • Lifestyle changes and education
  • Referral and co-management

It’s important to take headaches seriously. Consider consulting a chiropractor if you often have headaches, if you frequently take a pain reliever for your headaches, if your headache pattern changes, or if your headaches are getting worse.

Seek prompt attention if your headache is sudden and severe, follows a head injury, or is accompanied by fever, stiff neck, weakness, numbness, or difficulty speaking.

If headaches have become a regular part of your life, it may be time to seek help from a qualified healthcare professional, such as your chiropractor. Like other musculoskeletal conditions, headaches can be differentiated by a comprehensive examination and strategies to relieve the pain can be identified.

To learn more about how chiropractic care can help you manage your headaches, contact the Pickering Village Chiropractic & Massage Therapy Clinic at 905-427-3202 to book a consultation with a member of our wellness team.


With content from the Canadian Chiropractic Association.