Why Do Headaches Happen

Why Do Headaches Happen

The joints, muscles and nerves in your neck and upper back play a large role in those who suffer from headaches. Abnormal movement, or excessive tension in these structures can lead to inflammation headache.

Poor postures, injury or a trauma such as whiplash or concussion can aggravate your neck muscles, joints and nerves, which can lead to a headache. Some people are more likely to suffer from headaches than others. For example, desk workers and people who wear hard hats or welding helmets. People who maintain awkward positions are also more likely to suffer from headaches.

Tension and Cervicogenic Headaches

Sitting for prolonged periods of time at a desk can lead to slouching and poor posture.  Wearing a hard hat, a welding or bicycle helmet, or maintaining an awkward head posture can all cause your neck muscles to fatigue.  This can place excessive stress on the joints, muscles and nerves in your neck.  Gradually these structures become sensitive, stiff and inflamed.  The next thing you know, you have a headache!

The headache may start at the base of your head and wrap around to your forehead.  It can feel as though your head is being squeezed.  Other times it can feel as though the pain is deep in your head with shooting pain behind one or both eyes.  The discomfort is usually constant, but it can also fluctuate throughout the day.

These headaches are best described as either tension headaches or cervicogenic headaches.  Tension headaches and cervicogenic headaches arise from problems in the neck.  When there is limited movement of the joints and muscles in your neck, this may trigger a headache.  Joint restriction in your neck can start a painful cycle of stiffness, muscular tightness, and joint inflammation.  This can cause irritation to sensitized nerves that lead from your neck to the back of your head.


Post-Traumatic Headache

A post-traumatic headache is defined by the International Headache Society as: “a headache developing within seven days of the injury or after regaining consciousness.”  Many types of headaches follow trauma, but the most common resembles a migraine headache.  These are moderate to severe in intensity, pulsating, with associated nausea/vomiting. They cause light/sound sensitivity, and are worsened with routine activity. Post-traumatic headache is commonly accompanied by many symptoms. These symptoms include dizziness, insomnia, poor concentration, memory problems, light and sound sensitivity, fatigue, and mood and personality changes.

Research shows this type of headache usually resolves within three months.  However, in 18-65% of cases they may last longer and become persistent post-traumatic headaches if left untreated. 

Post-traumatic headaches usually occur after a motor vehicle accident or a whiplash injury. They can also be present after a fall or sparring match. The structures of the neck become injured, causing inflammation, joint restriction, and muscular strain.  This leads to tissue sensitivity and a headache.


Migraines are one of the most disabling type of headache. Migraines are typically one sided, although they can surround your entire head.  They are severe in intensity and pulsating. People will often have nausea or vomiting with light and sound sensitivity.   Frequency of migraines peaks around 30-40 years of age.  Migraines are complex, chronic neurological disorders. They are characterized by recurrent moderate to severe pulsating or throbbing headaches.  1/3 of migraine sufferers have associated aura with the migraine.  Aura is a collection of various neurological symptoms. These may include visual disturbances, numbness, nausea, vomiting, hypersensitivity to light or sound.  Onset of a new Migraine Headache after 50 years of age is very rare. An easy self-administered screening tool called the ID Migraine asks the following questions.  Answering ‘Yes’ to 2 of 3 questions gives an 80% sensitivity and a 75% specificity for migraine:                

During the last 3 months, did you have any of the following with your headaches?

i)                    You felt nauseated or sick to your stomach when you had a headache?

ii)                   Light bothered you (A lot more than when you don’t have headaches)?

iii)                 Your headaches limited your ability to work, study, or do what you needed to do for at least 1 day?

Factors In Migrains

Due to the complex neurological nature of migraines, they can be difficult to manage.  There are many factors that increase the risk of having a migraine.  These include:

  • Genetics - if your parents suffered with migraines
  • Obesity
  • Low cardiovascular fitness
  • Overuse of medication
  • Calcium and Vitamin D deficiency
  • Tension in the upper neck
It is also worth noting that migraine headaches can become chronic with medication overuse. Overuse of acetaminophen, naproxen, aspirin, opiates, barbiturates, and/or tryptophans’, for example.

How We Help

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The good news is that these headaches are treatable!

We will first restore mobility and ease the tension of the muscles and joints in your neck.  We will help to reduce the local inflammation, and nerve irritation.  Next, we either address provoking factors.  Work station ergonomics, and stress management techniques are helpful in reducing headaches.  A rehabilitative program to stretch and strengthen your neck is also important.  This will improve your neck capacity and tolerance, making headache re-occurrence less likely.

The techniques we use, and the treatment program we create, will be unique to you.  The reasons for your headaches are as individual as you are. This is why we tailor our programs to fit your specific needs.