Headaches are a common cause of pain in both children and adults. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that at least half of Americans will suffer one headache or more in any given year.
While headaches are an annoying inconvenience at best (and debilitating at worst), they do offer helpful clues about our internal health. Understanding these clues help us not only avoid headaches in the future but also help us achieve better overall wellbeing.
Let’s learn more about the different types of headaches, what they can tell us about our health, and how chiropractic care can help you ditch your headaches – and the pain pills!
What is a headache?
Headaches are a painful condition caused by inflammation of certain nerves, blood vessels, and muscles around the head and neck. When inflamed, these tissues can feel swollen, sore, aching, and even hot. Headaches can also be the result of underlying conditions such as hormonal imbalances, medications, injury, or other issues.
What about the brain? Even though your headache may feel like your brain is exploding, the brain itself cannot feel pain. The discomfort you feel comes from pain signals of the surrounding structures of the brain and head.
But, not all headaches are created equally. They vary widely and can indicate a range of underlying causes, from muscular tension to hormonal imbalance.
To decipher what your headache is telling you, we can look at a few different factors:
- Type of headache
- Type of pain
- Triggering factors
Decoding Your Headache Type
Location, type of pain, and accompanying symptoms all play a part in determining the kind of headache you have. These factors also offer insight into your body’s overall health status. Here we’ll look at the most common headache presentations and learn what these headaches are telling us:
Congested pain in the face and ears? You may have sinus or allergy headaches.
A common side effect of rhinosinusitis (sinus infection) is a headache in the front of the head that involves the face, ears, or teeth. This type of headache also accompanies other sinus infection symptoms like nasal discharge, coughing, and fever.
- Location: Forehead, face, ears, eyes, teeth
- Type of pain: Sore, tender, stuffy pain. Often will other cold-like symptoms.
- Your body says: Sometimes sinus infections are simply a result of a bad cold or allergies. If they occur often, however, it may be a sign that your immune system is weakened and susceptible to recurring infection. You can fight back by strengthening the immune system and reducing inflammation in the body.
- What to do: These headaches typically resolve once the sinus infection has been cleared. Your chiropractor can help you relieve these sinus blockages and enhance your body’s immune function to prevent sinus headaches in the future.
Dull, tender pain in various areas? You may have tension headaches.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache and provide helpful information about the imbalances in the body. Because tension headaches have a wide range of causes and triggers, other accompanying symptoms are needed to determine the root of the problem.
- Location: Back of head, neck, temples, forehead, cheeks, behind the eyes, “all over”
- Type of Pain: Dull or tightening pain, tender to the touch.
- Your body says: Tension headaches are a sign that something is “off” in the body. They are typically the result of a lifestyle issue, like chronic stress, poor posture, hangover, or lack of sleep. Alternatively, they can point to deeper imbalances such as dehydration, structural issues in the spine or muscles, TMJ, or hormone imbalances. The takeaway? If you are experiencing recurring tension headaches, your body is crying out for help. It’s time to take a step back, look at the bigger picture, and find a natural solution.
- What to do: To conquer tension headaches, the first step is to determine the root cause. In many cases, tension headaches are due to overwhelming stress or muscle tension. Some of the best remedies to beat these types of headaches are exercise, water, and massage, or chiropractic care. Your chiropractor can help you understand more about why you are experiencing headaches and guide you through the natural therapies, supplements, or lifestyle habits that will help you kick your tension headaches to the curb.
Throbbing pain on one side of the head? You may be experiencing migraines.
Throbbing pain that is accompanied by nausea and/or visual changes usually indicates a migraine. Most migraines are caused by a “trigger” so it’s important to take note of when they occur so you can identify a pattern or commonality.
- Location: One-sided, behind one eye, “headband” area or top of the head, back of your head, neck, temples, or “all over”
- Type of Pain: Throbbing pain that is worse with exposure to sound, smells, or light. May be accompanied by an “aura” or other symptoms.
- Your body says: Migraines, especially recurring ones, are one of the ways the body tells us that something isn’t right. For example, one of the most common reasons women experience migraines is hormone imbalance. As the hormones fluctuate during the menstrual cycle, major spikes or drops can lead to the onset of a migraine. Here, the body tells us that we need to regulate and balance the hormones.
- What to do: Migraines can be tricky to overcome, but it is possible with proper care and lifestyle change. Your chiropractor can help you determine the root cause of your migraines and help you find the best solutions for your unique migraines.
Other Types of Headaches
- Sharp, one-sided pain
This type of headache tends to be severe, but short-lived. They are often referred to as “cluster” headaches and may happen in short bursts over a few days. Seek help from your chiropractor or physician to take control of cluster headaches.
- Intense “thunderclap” pain
Sometimes, a stroke or aneurysm can cause an incredibly sudden and intense headache that feels like a thunderclap. If this is the case and you suspect a serious condition, please seek immediate medical attention.
The Most Common Headache Triggers
While headache and migraine triggers can differ greatly from person to person, there are a few common culprits:
- stress and tension
- lack of sleep or jet lag
- hunger or dehydration
- certain foods
- chemical additives
- alcohol and caffeine
- medication overuse
- certain smells
- lights and sounds
- overuse of computer screens
- weather or pressure changes
- female hormones
- physical activity
- muscle tension or spinal issues
- changes in routine
- teeth grinding or eye squinting
- excessive coughing
Listen to Your Body and Heal Your Headaches Naturally
Are you ready to get to the bottom of your headaches and pain? As we can see, headaches are a highly individualized condition with different treatment strategies for the many possible causes. Thankfully, we don’t have to reach for a pain pill every time we get a headache. There are many natural, proactive approaches to managing headaches and preventing this painful condition.
Chiropractic care is one of the best ways to address headaches and improve your overall health. Reach out to your local AlignLife chiropractor today to learn more about overcoming your headaches and living pain-free!
Headache Disorders. World Health Organization. April 2016.
Headaches. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. July 2020.
Headaches Connected to Allergies and Sinus Problems. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology. July 2020.
Chiropractic Treatment of Temporomandibular Dysfunction: A Retrospective Case Series. Steven Pavia, DC, Rebecca Fischer, DC, and Richard Roy, DC, PhD. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine. November 2015.
Long-term relief from tension-type headache and major depression following chiropractic treatment. Eric Chun Pu Chu and Michelle Ng. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care. June 2018.
Migraine in women: the role of hormones and their impact on vascular diseases. Simona Sacco, Silvia Ricci, Diana Degan, and Antonio Carolei. Journal of Headache Pain. February 2012.