Headaches can cause a very significant change in one’s quality of life. Activities like being productive at work or school, enjoying family time, social interactions with friends and participating in sporting and recreational activities can often be negatively impacted when someone suffers with chronic tension headaches. The pain from headaches can be unbearable at times.
What is a tension headache?
Tension headaches, or cervicogenic headaches, are the most common type of headaches. This is the type of headache you get after sitting at a computer screen all week at work or when you wake up in the morning with a headaches after sleeping on your neck the wrong way at night. There is usually associated neck pain/stiffness, upper back pain and tightness.
Tension headaches occur when the joints and muscles at the base of the skull and even in the upper back become irritated, tight and inflamed. Irritated joints, muscles, nerves and fascia in and around the spine causes a referred type of headache to the head also known as a tension headache.
What causes tension headaches?
To understand some of the causes of tension headaches, it is important to understand the anatomy of the upper cervical spine and its relationship to headaches.
The top vertebrae in the cervical spine are referred to C1 or the atlas (the meaning comes fro from Greek mythology, in which Atlas supported the weight of the world). The C1 vertebrae allows for full movements in the neck and head including rotation, flexion and extension.
C2 is the second cervical vertebrae in the spine and is often referred to as the dens. The dens or C2 acts as a pivot that allows the atlas and head to rotate and move side to side.
These top vertebrae C1 and C2 are surrounded by nerves, connective tissue, muscles, and ligaments that attach the spine to the base of the skull. This area of the body is designed to contain highly sensitive nerves and pain fibers because it is in close proximity to the brain and spinal cord.
In addition, the vertebral artery runs up through the C1 on the right and left sides of the vertebrae and into your brain to supply it with blood and oxygen.
When this highly sensitive region of the upper cervical spine experiences joint dysfunction or the muscles, ligaments and nerves become tense and irritated. This in turn leads to a cervicogenic headaches or “tension headache.”
How can chiropractors treat tension headaches?
Chiropractic treatments for these headaches include targeting the irritated and tight joints and muscles that may be the root cause of the tension headaches. Chiropractic spinal manipulations or adjustments restore mobility to the fixated stiff and inflamed vertebrae in the upper cervical spine and upper back or thoracic spine. When these joints are adjusted mobility is restored to the vertebrae relieving muscle tension and soreness.
Chiropractic treatments also include soft tissue therapies where tight muscles and trigger points are treated. It’s very important when treating tension headaches to treat the spinal vertebrae, muscles and ligaments.
Chiropractors will also prescribe specific exercises to correct chronic postural problems that may be contributing to your tension headaches.
Often times a condition such as forward head posture and poor posture in the upper back are causing the joints and muscles to carry too much of the heads weight leading to inflammation and irritation in the joints and muscles in the upper cervical spine and upper back.
When treating tension headaches in my office it is also important that we address relaxation techniques, exercise habits and possible nutritional deficiencies like magnesium, calcium and vitamin D.
In summary, tension headaches are one of the top conditions treated by chiropractors around the country with a great deal of success.
If you have any more questions about the treatment of tension headaches in my office, feel free to reach out and schedule an appointment today. Walk-ins are also welcome at our local Raleigh, NC Chiropractor’s office.
Dr. Jeffrey Gerdes D.C.