What’s causing your headache?

Jaw Pain, TMJ, Chiropractic, Physiotherapy, Massage Therapy
TMJ conditions and Jaw pain
July 4, 2020
Community Partner Dr. Heather Van der Geest, Naturpathic Doctor
New Practitioner: Dr. Heather Van der Geest, Naturopathic Doctor
October 14, 2020

What’s causing your headache?



Did you know that neck pain and headaches are one of the most common issues in our current society? According to the World Health Organization (2016), it is estimated that the prevalence of headaches (at least once within a year) is about 50% globally. That’s a lot of pain! There are so many factors in our lives that can contribute to one or more headaches or neck symptoms per year including: prior injuries, poor postures, direct trauma, heavy lifting, contact sports, jaw dysfunction, stress and more!

What are headaches?

The main symptom of a headache is a pain in the head or face. The sensation can be throbbing, constant, sharp, compressing or dull.


What are the different types of headaches?

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches are headaches that are not due to another medical condition and include:

  • Tension Headaches
  • Migraine Headaches
  • Cluster Headaches
Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are headaches that are caused by another medical condition and include:

  • Head Injuries
  • Blood vessel problems in the brain
  • Infection
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Sinus Congestion
  • Trauma
  • Tumors

Often times, headache cases that arrive at a Vancouver wellness clinic like Baseline, are primary headaches as they are more common cases. Within the primary headache category, the most frequent headaches are Tension Headaches followed by Migraine Headaches. Although, they are uncommon to come to a wellness clinic, it is still important to screen for all of the other causes of headaches to  ensure safety and the best management for clients! That is why a detailed history should obtained with new onset of headaches or  conditions.


What Causes Headaches?

Headaches are usually a result of signals that are interacting among the brain, blood vessels and surround nerves. During a headache, usually an unknown stimulus or mechanism will start to activate nerves that then affect the muscles and blood vessels and create the pain patterns that we know as headaches.


What is a Tension Headache?

Trap Referral pattern for headachesA tension headache is the most common physical cause for headaches. A tension headache is often due to tense musculature that leads to referral pain. Referral pain is a term that describes pain in an area that is due to tension or  build up in another area of the body. Referral pain is typically predictable based on the muscle tissue that is affected.

In the case of tension headaches, the most common cause is the upper trapezius muscle. As seen on this image shown to the left (www.themassageclinic.ca), the X represents trigger points or “knots” that can occur due to prolonged poor postures and stress. As a result, it can create a pulling tension that can affect a large area of the head.

Many other muscles in the head and neck can create different headaches and they all have different patterns. Additionally, tension headaches can be due to joint problems in the neck and jaw as well so multiple areas need to be screened in order to identify what  could be the source of a headache.

Characteristically, tension headaches often come and go depending on the stressful activity and often can be decreased by manual therapy (massage, chiropractic, physiotherapy) and often times the pain will be like a band across the head the is usually mild to moderate in pain and is usually responsive to over the counter medications.


What is a Migraine?

Migraines are a type of headache that are not fully understood at this time. There have been thoughts about blood vessels overreacting to nerve impulses and leading to some chemical changes in the brain but the definitive cause of migraines is essentially unknown. Migraines can present with aura (pre-migraine symptoms) or auras can be absent. The presence or absence of aura does not dictate how bad the migraines are simply are just characteristics that can occur with migraine headaches. Migraines typically present as a one side headache and they can be disabling. They often accompany one or more of nausea, light sensitivity and sound sensitivity. The pain that is present with migraines is usually  moderate to severe and the pain can last for hours to days. It is often reported as a disabling pounding or throbbing pain.


What can trigger headaches and migraines?

Common triggers include:

  • Alcohol use
  • Emotional stress
  • Eye strain (prescriptions need to be assessed)
  • Neck or back pain due to  poor posture
  • Weather Changes
  • Food Sensitivities
  • Noise
  • Bright Lights
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Medication side effects

How are Headaches Treated?

Who do I see for a headacheThe most common treatment that individuals use are over the counter medications which can be effective for the occasional headache, however, if headaches persist and never resolve or are increasing in frequency these medications may not be the best solution.

The best and most critical aspect towards treating headaches is to find out the triggers and source of the headaches.

The best way to find the source of the headaches are to consult a health care provider that treats headaches. Your local chiropractor, physiotherapist, registered massage therapist, and Naturopathic Physician are great sources to find the reason behind your neck and headaches. Your chosen practitioner should take a detailed history and perform an exam to ensure that your headache is not a secondary type of headache that could use more intensive management. Once it is confirmed that your headache is likely a primary headache, most practitioners should then start working on the cause of the headache if it is a tension headache. For Migraine headaches, the research is mixed for manual therapy and the effects on these headaches. Some individuals will respond well to care and it will help them to manage their conditions, others will experience no differences for their symptoms. In the end, conservative care management especially with headache trigger identification and management can be great assets to headaches and with  low risks involved in treatment it is worth the change of managing these cases.


As always, if you have any questions about your conditions and would like to schedule an appointment with us at Baseline Health and Wellness you can give us a call at 6046744027 or schedule online at www.baselinewellness.ca

Provided by Dr. Kody Au, Vancouver Chiropractor

The information contained in the multimedia content now stated as “Content” posted represents the views and opinions of the original creators of such Content.
The Content has been created and shared for informational and educational purposes only. Baseline and it’s practitioners do not make any warranties or guarantees with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness, or completeness of the Content. Baseline does not warrant govern over the effectiveness or applicability of any sites linked or provident in the Content.
The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional history, exam, diagnosis or treatment. Ensure that you always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or choose to delay in seeking medical care because of something you have read or seen on the Site.
Baseline hereby disclaims any and all liability to any party for any direct, indirect, implied, punitive, special, incidental or other consequential damages arising directly or indirectly from any use of the Content, which is provided as is, and without warranties.

call us