Chiropractic Treatment for Tension Headaches


If you often suffer from a tension headache, you might be surprised to learn that these are sometimes called "normal" headaches. What?! Pain is your head is not normal! Tension-type or stress headaches are common, though, which may be why words like ordinary, usual, and common are often used to describe them. Throughout the world, in both Western and Eastern populations, in developing and in well-developed countries, the prevalence of tension headaches is high. Researchers tell us that over 85% of women and 60% of men suffer a tension headache at least once a year, and up to 5% of the world's population experience chronic tension headaches, which occur, on average, at least 15 times per month.

What are tension headaches?

Tension headaches are known as "primary headaches." This means they are not caused by another medical problem. Even though they are often extremely painful, these headaches are not associated with diseases of the brain. Tension headaches are commonly mistaken for migraine headaches, but the two are different. 

The brain itself cannot feel pain. It receives information about pain located in the head and neck through the trigeminal nerve. Headache pain occurs when the ends of nerve fibers are "turned on" or react to triggers and send signals through the trigeminal nerve to the brain. The brain picks up these signals in the thalamus. The thalamus sends pain messages from all over the body, to other parts of the brain that control our awareness of pain and manage how we emotionally respond to it.

The exact cause of tension headaches has not been discovered, but certain factors seem to be associated with their development. These include:

  • Changes in the way nerves located in the head, neck, and shoulders interpret pain signals.
  • Changes in the way the brain translates the pain signals from the head, neck, and shoulders.
  • Tension in the shoulder and neck muscles may also play a significant role in the way these headaches develop.

Remedies for tension headaches

For many people, the most obvious treatment for a tension headache is a mild pain reliever, like aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. These drugs are available without a prescription and they are usually effective in the treatment of mild to moderate pain. If you are looking for a safe and effective remedy for tension headaches, keep these facts about over-the-counter pain medicines in mind:

  • Overusing these medications can result in "rebound" headaches.
  • The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen is not recommended for some people due to an increased risk of bleeding or gastrointestinal irritation.
  • Not all people should take acetaminophen due to the potential for liver damage.

Strategies other than medications for relieving painful symptoms include:

  •  may relieve tension in the neck that causes headaches.
  • Rest. Taking a break to lie down and simply relax in a quiet, dark room can sometimes relieve the tension that caused your headache.  
  • Mild heat. Warm moist packs to your shoulders and neck can help muscles relax and increase blood flow to the brain. If your headache is not accompanied by dizziness, try soaking in a warm bath, or take a hot shower.
  • Cold packs. Coldcompresses are sometimes more soothing than heat. Wrap an ice pack or a package of frozen vegetables in a thin towel and place it on your shoulders or behind your neck.This can be especially helpful following an upper cervical chiropractic adjustment.

Can a chiropractor help with tension headaches?

The goals of chiropractic treatment for chronic tension headaches focus not only on relieving pain when it occurs but also on preventing pain from returning. Rresearch has shown that chiropractic treatment may not only help relieve tension headaches, the benefits of treatment last longer than traditional treatment using medication.

This is especially true related to tension headaches that start in the neck. Upper cervical chiropractic adjustments can provide lasting benefits, rather than prescribing a short-term remedy that only covers up the underlying problem. 

Chiropractic treatment for tension headaches typically begins with your doctor determining the location of cervical vertebrae that are misaligned. Upper cervical chiropractic adjustment involves the application of very gentle pressure.

Upper cervical chiropractic adjustment helps tension headaches by:

  • Re-establishing alignment, especially of the upper cervical region
  • Increasing movement and mobility in your neck and shoulder region
  • Decreasing inflammation that can lead to chronic tension headaches
  • Decreasing muscle spasms often caused by cervical misalignment

Chronic tension headache treatment

Preventative chiropractic treatment for tension headaches can help keep them from returning. 

Your chiropractor will work with you to plan treatment to:

  • Correct your posture
  • Makes postural adjustments as needed
  • Includes a program to strengthen your cervical muscles
  • Performs upper cervical chiropractic adjustments when needed
  • Addresses potential trigger points in muscle fascia that may be contributing to chronic tension headaches

Preventing tension headaches

Your body is made up of a complex system of bones, muscles, and nerves. When your cervical vertebrae are in alignment and your muscles are strong to support them, your blood flow improves, your nerves stay healthy, and pain and inflammation decrease. Tension headaches are not normal, and you don't have to live with them.

With your chiropractor's help, you find a new normal way to live! If you suffer from chronic or frequent tension headaches, contact your chiropractor to schedule an appointment to set up a treatment plan for preventing tension headaches and living a pain-free, drug-free life! â€‹