Treat Tension Headaches With Chiropractic Care

Jun 17, 2016

Most people characterize a tension headache as a feeling of a dull ache behind the eyes or narrow band around the head. A frequent cause of tension headaches is subluxations in the neck and upper back, which are, in most cases, improved with chiropractic adjustments.

Headaches affect most people at some point and they can make themselves known in many different ways. Some people experience a pounding sensation inside their whole head.

Some people experience pain behind their eyes or in one part of their head. Some people even experience dizziness, while others do not.

The pain itself may be sharp or dull and may last for anywhere from a few days to a few minutes. The good news is that very few headaches are indicative of a serious underlying condition, but some conditions require urgent medical attention.

Chiropractic Care for Headaches

A large number of research studies convey that chiropractic adjustments are very effective at treating tension headaches, especially ones that derive from the neck.

A report issued in 2001 by researchers at the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham, NC, found that “spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate relief 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.”

This data supports an earlier study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics that credited spinal manipulation therapy with being an effective treatment for tension headaches.

This study also showed that those who stopped chiropractic treatment after four weeks continued to experience a lasting benefit in contrast to those patients who received pain relief medication.

Each individual’s case varies and needs a thorough assessment before a proper course of chiropractic treatment can be determined. However, significant improvement is can usually be accomplished through manipulation of the upper cervical vertebrae, coupled with adjustments to the area where the cervical and thoracic spine intersect.

This is also helpful in most cases of migraines, as long as lifestyle and food triggers are avoided as well.

Headache Information

Although headaches can be due to many different causes such as:

  • Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ)
  • Drug reactions
  • Tightness in the neck muscles
  • High blood pressure
  • Low blood sugar
  • Stress
  • Fatigue

The majority of recurrent headaches are of two types:

  • Migraine headaches
  • Tension headaches (also called cervicogenic headaches)

There is a third type of headache called a cluster headache that is related to the migraine, but this is less common.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most commonly occurring type of headache, affecting upwards of 75% of all headache sufferers. Most individuals describe a tension headache as a persistent dull, achy feeling either on one side or both sides of the head or as a feeling of a tight band around the head.

These headaches usually begin gradually and can last for days or minutes, and have a tendency to begin in the middle or toward the end of the day.

Tension headaches can be the result of stress or bad posture, which stresses the muscles and spine in the neck and upper back.

Tension headaches sometimes referred to as stress headaches, can last from 30 minutes to several days. In some cases, chronic tension headaches may persist for months.

Although the discomfort can sometimes be severe, tension headaches are not usually linked to other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, or throbbing.

The most common cause of tension headaches is subluxations in the neck and upper back, especially the upper neck, usually in combination with trigger points. When the upper cervical vertebrae lose their normal position or motion, a small muscle called the rectus capitis posterior minor (RCPM) begins to spasm.

The problem is that this muscle has a tendon that slips between the upper neck and the base of the skull and attaches to a thin tissue called the dura mater that covers the brain. Although the brain itself does not feel pain, the dura mater is very sensitive.

Consequently, when the RCPM muscle goes into spasm and its tendon tugs at the dura mater, a headache is often the result.

People who hold desk jobs will tend to suffer from headaches because of this.

Another cause of tension headaches comes from referred pain from trigger points in the Sternocleidomastoid (SCM). These are far more common in individuals who experience a whiplash injury due to muscle damage in the neck region.


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