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What's causing my headache and what can I do about them?

what causing headache

Around one in six Australians suffers from headache. They are common, but not all the same, thus do not respond to the same types of treatment.

In this article, you’ll learn about some of the most common types of headache and what you can do about them.

There are two main types of headache:

  1. Primary – these are caused by overactivity/stimulation of, or problems with pain sensitive structures in your head. The most common of these are tension type headaches and migraine headaches.
  2. Secondary – these are headaches caused by a disease or condition that activates pain sensitive nerves in the head. These can have less serious causes, such as sinus headache or ear infection, or more serious, such as high blood pressure, or tumour.

Different approaches to headache treatment

A primary headache isn’t a symptom of an underlying disease, so treatment options are often more clear. The first thing to check is any possible triggers for your headaches.

Some of the most common triggers for primary headaches include the following:

  • Alcohol, particularly red wine
  • Certain foods, such as processed meats that contain nitrates
  • Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
  • Poor posture
  • Skipped meals
  • Stress

If you notice headaches associated with any of these, your first action should be to reduce or remove that trigger from your life (if possible!) and watch the response. If this fails to impact your headaches, then see a trained health professional.

Can Neck Problems Cause Headache?

One of the most common headache types – cervicogenic headache – is caused by irritation of the nerves leading up into the head. This will often be accompanied by neck stiffness, soreness or decreased range of motion.

As you would expect, cervicogenic headaches generally respond well to chiropractic treatment. But what about those other types, such as migraines?

Can Migraines Respond to Chiropractic Care?

Migraines are the most studied type of headache. The mechanism behind them is well understood (related to circulatory disturbance in the cranial blood vessels), but the actual cause or reason for them is not.

While the above-mentioned triggers can bring on a migraine, they are not an outright ‘cause’, as they do not trigger migraines in all people, only migraine sufferers.

Migraines are most often treated with medication, but as chiropractors, we find that many of our patients with migraines find relief – either full or partial – as a result of their chiropractic care.

While the mechanism of this result is not well understood, it may be related to reducing a type of ‘trigger’ to the migraine. Irritation of nerves leading into the scalp and head, some of which may influence the circulation and inflammatory response, may be to blame.

As I say to my patients with migraines, you will always have a tendency to migraine headaches, but if we can remove one of the major triggers, you may not suffer them at all or at least very often.

Do I need to worry about my headache?

Most headaches are not a sign of something serious and can be managed with conservative treatment. Secondary headaches, while not always serious (eg. Dehydration, sinusitis, hangover) can often be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.

Among the more serious conditions that can cause headaches are:

  • Brain aneurysm (bulge or ballooning of artery in the brain)
  • Brain tumour
  • Concussion
  • Meningitis
  • Stroke

These are serious conditions that require medical and often emergency care.

Common ‘red flags’ that may indicate a more serious cause of headache are:

  • Fever accompanies the headache
  • You have a history of cancer
  • Headache has a sudden onset
  • Headache is accompanied by neurological deficit (eg changes in sensation, consciousness)
  • Brought on by coughing, sneezing or exercise

Chiropractors are trained in diagnosis and management of a range of musculoskeletal conditions. Part of that training is to differentiate serious and non-serious conditions and recognise what’s in our territory and when to refer.

As chiropractors at Canberra Spine Centre, we have helped thousands of Canberrans find relief from their headaches, improve their function and to feel great again. Proper diagnosis to ensure you receive the right treatment is the first step.

If you have headaches and you’re not sure what to do about them, please call us on (02) 6257 9400.

If you would like some more information about the spine and nervous system and how it relates to your health, please check out the other articles on our Facebook page or go to our website: Also, make sure you read the other interesting articles we post on headaches this month.