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Headaches - Finding the root cause

More than 10 million people in the UK experience headaches regularly, but what could be causing these niggling pains? After low back and neck pain, they are the top reason people consult us as chiropractors.

There are a number of categories of Headaches including migraine, tension HA, medication-induced HA and cluster headaches. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that around half of all adults worldwide will experience a headache in any given year.

Headaches can be a result of a number of different conditions. There are a number of different classification systems for headaches. One of the most commonly quoted is that of the International Headache Society, who categorise headaches as primary, when they are not caused by another condition, or secondary, when there is a further underlying cause.

It may be quite tempting to assume that there is something serious going on, however this is unlikely to be the case, less than 1% of headaches are caused by something serious. Different causes usually give different types of pain and different locations in the head, which allow us to trace the cause of the pain.

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches are stand-alone illnesses caused directly by the overactivity of, or problems with, structures in the head that are pain-sensitive.

This includes the blood vessels, muscles, and nerves of the head and neck. They may also result from changes in chemical activity in the brain.

Common primary headaches include migraines, cluster headaches, and tension headaches.

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are symptoms that happen when another condition stimulates the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. In other words, the headache symptoms can be attributed to another cause.

A wide range of different factors can cause secondary headaches.

These include:

  • Dehydration

  • Viral infections / Flu

  • Concussions / Whiplash

Here at Bristol Chiropractic we see a wide range of headaches, our chiropractors are trained to fully assess your headaches and explain what may be the potential triggers.

What type of headache do I have?

Most people can be classified generally suffering with one particular headache, however occasionally these headaches types can overlap and set off another type of headache.

Tension headaches

Tension headaches are the most common form of primary headache. This type of headache will normally begin slowly and gradually in the middle of the day and become debilitating by the end of the day. We look for tight muscles in the neck and scalp, often resulting from poor posture or stress as tension triggers.

Chiropractor treating a patient's neck

The patient will commonly feel:

  • A dull ache located around either side of the head and maybe described as a tight band around the head.

  • Can become constant with peaks during the day.

  • Can feel like it’s radiating from the neck and back of the skull.


A migraine headache may cause a pulsating, throbbing pain located on one side of the head. Research suggests that 3,000 migraine attacks occur every day for each million of the general population. This is estimated through research to equate to over 190,000 migraine attacks every day in the UK.

Migraines may cause symptoms such as:

  • Nausea or vomiting.

  • Brightly coloured or flashing lights, called an aura, this may occur just before the head pain begins.

  • Certain foods, hormones, stress and changes in sleep or exercise patterns are known to trigger migraines in some people.

  • Different people have different migraine triggers.

How can we help:

Looking at reducing the triggers is the first point of call, to help reduce the symptoms and occurrences of migraine whilst looking at the mechanics of the head and neck to reduce tension and symptoms of Migraine.

Rebound headaches

Rebound headaches can commonly known as medication overuse induced headache. Commonly to taken to help treat headache symptoms.

As the pain reliever wears off, your body may have a withdrawal reaction, prompting you to take more medicine, which only leads to another headache. And so the cycle continues until you start to have more intense and more regular headache.

Symptoms of rebound headaches can be:

• Nausea

• Lethargy

• Restlessness / difficulty concentrating

• Memory problems

• Irritability

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches, which occur in cyclical patterns or clusters, are one of the most painful types of headache. The episodes can occur suddenly once per day up to eight times per day for a period of weeks to months.

A cluster headache commonly awakens you in the middle of the night with intense pain in or around one eye on one side of your head.

Bouts of frequent attacks, known as cluster periods, can last from weeks to months, usually followed by remission periods when the headaches stop. These can result in having months or years without an attack.

Fortunately, cluster headache is rare and not life-threatening. Treatments can make cluster headache attacks shorter and less severe. In addition, medications can reduce the number of cluster headaches.

Symptoms of a cluster headache are:

▪ one-sided

▪ severe

▪ often described as sharp or burning

▪ typically located in or around one eye

A recent interesting case was televised on BBC 1 TV show, ‘Dr in the House’

For any questions relating to your own headaches come in and have a chat with our Chiropractors, Danny or Cat who are experienced in helping resolve or improve headaches.

How can massage help?

Massage can help relieve the neck and shoulder muscles that maybe causing your headaches. Do you ever find little knots in these areas and try to smooth them out yourself and get an instant relief in your head. Karen and Beata work with a number of patients on a regular basis to help keep the trigger points at bay, just like having a regular sessions with the hygienist at the dentist!

By working these tension (or also called trigger) points the referred pain you feel in your head can be relieved. Thus treating the cause of the headache rather than the symptoms and thus breaking the cycle of more headaches.

For more information contact reception on 0117 9620100 and speak to our massage therapists about how they can help you!

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