What are Headaches?

Suffering from headaches in Coquitlam?

Headaches affect most people, at least occasionally and the majority of Canadians will suffer from at least one headache in their lifetime. It may signal serious underlying illness, but, more frequently, it is associated with personal and social burdens of pain, disability, damaged quality of life, and financial cost. The Canadian Chiropractic Association states headaches can differ from one individual to another and triggers can vary from environment, food, stress, dehydration and others.

Still, headaches or pain to the head can be caused or referred from muscles, joints, ligaments or nerves. “The greatest majority of primary headaches are associated with muscle tension in the neck,” says Dr. George B. McClelland, a doctor of chiropractic from Christiansburg, VA. “[We] engage in more sedentary activities than we used to, and more hours are spent in one fixed position or posture. This can increase joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back and scalp, causing your headache.”

There are several types of headaches, including migraine, cervicogenic, tension-type and cluster.


Intense throbbing or pulsing sensation on one or both sides of the head, frequently accompanied by sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and vomiting. Migraine can be preceded by an “aura” that can present as a flash of light, blind spots or tingling.


Pain usually on one side of the head. The pain can start at the base of the skull and spread to the front of the head.

Tension Type

Constant pain and pressure described as dull and achy. Pain can be felt on both sides of the head, forehead, temples and even back of the head. Often referred to as a tight band around the head.


Severe, stabbing, penetrating, burning or explosive recurring pain that is located on one side of the head. Cluster headaches have a rapid onset and can frequently present in patterns or “clusters” over a certain period of time. Often described as starting around or “behind” the eye and can cause redness or watering of the eye, stuffy or runny nose, droopy eyelid, facial swelling or flushing and sensitivity to light and noise.

Chiropractic Care and Headaches

Chiropractors can assess, diagnose and manage headaches. Evidence has demonstrated chiropractic care, including spinal adjustments (manipulative therapy), can be effective care for cervicogenic and tension-type headaches. Additionally, studies have demonstrated care offered by a chiropractor can also decrease the intensity and frequency of migraines.

The goal of chiropractic care at Westwood Total Health is to create a plan of management individualized to the patient’s needs and examination findings. Following a careful assessment of the patient’s spinal function and structure, including x-rays if necessary, treatment options may include:

  • Patient education and reassurance
  • Specific spinal adjustments to improve spinal function and alleviate the stress on your nervous system
  • Advice on posture, ergonomics (work postures), exercises and relaxation techniques. This advice should help to relieve the recurring joint irritation and tension in the muscles of the neck and upper back.
  • Lifestyle changes

Additional therapies at Westwood Total Health include:

  • Massage therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Soft tissue therapy
  • Modalities, including electrical stimulation, acupuncture, ultrasound and others
  • Nutritional advice, recommending a change in diet and perhaps the addition of B complex vitamins
  • Rehabilitation and exercises
  • Referral and co-management

Tips to Prevent Headaches

  • If you spend a large amount of time in one fixed position, such as in front of a computer, on a sewing machine, typing or reading, take a break and stretch every 30 minutes to one hour. The stretches should take your head and neck through a comfortable range of motion.
  • Make sure your postures are ergonomically correct during work and other activities. This reduces stress on the spinal joints, muscles and discs.
  • Low-impact exercise may help relieve the pain associated with primary headaches. However, if you are prone to dull, throbbing headaches, avoid heavy exercise. Engage in such activities as walking and low-impact aerobics.
  • Avoid teeth clenching. The upper teeth should never touch the lowers, except when swallowing. This results in stress at the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) – the two joints that connect your jaw to your skull – leading to TMJ irritation and a form of tension headaches. Have a chiropractor assess the alignment and function of your jaw. In many cases, simple exercises and gentle adjustments to the jaw can be very effective at improving function.
  • Consult with one of our massage therapists to assess and treat the muscles and other soft tissues of the jaw, neck and upper spine. This will reduce stress on the muscles, joints and nerves and help with headaches.
  • Stay hydrated. It is recommended you drink about half of your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water daily. For example, a 150 pound man should be drinking approximately 75 ounces of water per day.

Headache Research Studies

In 2010, a study of 82 participants was undertaken to evaluate the effectiveness of manual therapy (MT) in participants with chronic tension-type headache (CTTH). After 8 weeks, a significantly larger reduction of headache frequency was found for the MT group. It concluded manual therapy is more effective than usual GP care in the short and longer term in reducing symptoms of CTTH.

In 2001, 127 participants volunteered to assess the efficacy of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) in the treatment of migraine. 22% of participants reported more than a 90% reduction of migraines as a consequence of SMT. Approximately 50% more participants reported significant improvement in the morbidity of each episode.

  • British Medical Journal
  • Chiropractic.ca
  • ACA Today
  • Chiro.org
  • Sage Journals

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