What causes a headache?

There are many causes of headache, these triggers can include;, stress, fatigue, tight neck muscles, diet – including caffeine, sugars, nitrates (processed meats), chocolate, ripened cheese, fermented or pickled products and MSG. As well as dehydration, low blood pressure, menstrual cycle, odours and the list goes on. Eyes* are often considered to be a cause of a headache; in fact it is likely to be the muscles in the neck and not the eyes causing the pain.

If you suffer from regular headaches, it is advisable to keep a headache diary to see if a pattern can be identified.

Different types of headache:

There are three widely known types of headache; the most prolific are tension headaches and migraines, while the third is known as a cluster headache.

Tension Headache (cervicogenic headache):

The Tension headache is by far the most ‘normal’ headache, where pain is felt anywhere from the base of the skull, side of head, behind the eyes or even into the jaw. Tension headaches begin slowly and tend to worsen as the day goes, as pain radiates around the brain (as it has no pain receptors itself) via blood vessels, nerves and membranes (such as the sheath surrounding the brain, the dura mater). The main contributor to the cause of a tension headache is poor posture, which places excess pressure through the spinal joints and muscles in upper back and neck.**

If a joint within the neck is not as mobile/flexible as it should be, the surrounding musculature will be overworking and pull unnecessarily on the network of soft tissue around the brain, resulting in head pain. Likewise, stress and tension within the neck and upper back muscles will also produce the pull and therefore pain.  The reason for the muscle tension must be identified and this could be as a result of a joint problem, postural overuse or damage from an accident such as whiplash.

By performing chiropractic manipulation on the upper thoracic (upper back) and cervical spine (neck), joint mobility can be improved and muscle tension reduced. Deep tissue massage, as well as physiotherapy mobilisations and acupuncture will all have a positive effect on both reducing symptoms and addressing the cause of a tension headache.

During an initial assessment, alongside a physical examination, your daily posture and lifestyle will be considered to help find the underlying cause of the headaches and alongside treatment to restore correct function; appropriate stretches, neck and shoulder strengthening exercises and advice will be given to help keep the headaches at bay.


Migraines are a totally different ball game and these aren’t just a pain in the head, but usually accompanied by nausea and visual problems and can last much longer than a tension headache. These are said to be caused by the constriction of blood vessels around the brain (causing vision and focus to be affected and the warning of a migraine attack), followed by dilation, causing a rush of blood and the searing pain.  Each time the heart beats it sends another shock of pain into the head.  Despite the reason for this blood vessel constriction/dilation being unknown, migraines can be helped by Chiropractic and we have seen good results in treating them.

Cluster Headache:

These are thought to be related to a migraine, but are often shorter attacks, but a few close together, hence the name. Like migraines these can respond well to Chiropractic treatment.

*A note on eyes: If your eyes need testing, or prescription updating, your eyes can be strained throughout the day. When your eyes become tired from looking at a computer / book etc, you adjust your posture to see / read better, usually resulting in dropping your head forwards and tipping your chin up, overusing the back of the neck to compensate.  This strain on the neck muscles may then pull on the dura mater, resulting in a headache.

**A note on poor posture: excessive use of one posture will have a negative effect on the body.  Unfortunately due to daily life and career choices, most of us have one movement that we execute repetitively throughout the day.  Whether that’s sitting, coupled with looking at a computer screen, TV, laptop, or a more active job including hairstylists, decorators, artists, photographers, gardeners, the list is endless.  Even in sport we repeat a movement, and it is this repetition that puts stress through joints and connective tissue.  Our bodies are designed to be active, but not overused, so we have to find a way to manage our daily lives, counter balance any negative postural affects where possible.