Headaches arising from the neck & migraines (prevention)

Headaches and migraines are extremely common and many people suffer their debilitating effect on a regular basis. There are many different headache types and symptoms can vary greatly between people.

All headaches can be categorised into two main types: primary headache and secondary headache.

A primary headache is one for which there is no underlying condition. These include tension-type headaches, cervicogenic headaches, migraine headaches and cluster headaches.

Secondary headaches are those that are caused by an underlying disease or condition such as head trauma, high blood pressure, temporal arteritis, kidney disease, medication side effects or simple dehydration.

Your chiropractor is trained to diagnose the different types of headache and to rule out any secondary causes. If your chiropractor suspects an underlying disease or serious problem, they will of course refer you to the appropriate health care professional.

Cervicogenic headaches

Cervicogenic headaches originate from a mechanical problem in the spinal joints just below the base of the skull (C1-3; the top 3 vertebrae in the neck). This affects the nerves and muscles of the region resulting in a headache.

Movement of the neck and/or sustained awkward head positioning often causes and can exacerbate cervicogenic headaches. They are often accompanied by restricted range of motion, neck, shoulder, or arm pain. Pressure applied over the neck or the base of the skull can sometimes worsen the pain.

Cervicogenic headaches are most commonly unilateral (affect one side of the head), non-throbbing and are usually not accompanied by visual disturbance, nausea or photophobia (light sensitivity).

Cervicogenic headaches have been shown to respond well to chiropractic adjustments.


Migraines are a chronic condition where the sufferer undergoes a series of recurrent attacks. Most migraines present with a headache but it is possible to experience all the associated symptoms with no headache. A migraine headache is usually an intense, throbbing or pulsing pain that is usually unilateral (affects one side of the head). 

Migraine headaches can last anywhere between 2-72 hours and may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), phonophobia (increased sensitivity to sound) and pain on movement.

Approximately two-thirds of sufferers will experience a ‘warning’ of the impending headache in the form of sleepiness, irritability or yawning. Up to one-third of sufferers will notice an aura: a transient visual, sensory, language, or motor disturbance, which warns of the impending headache. 

The causes of migraines are not fully understood though environmental factors are thought to play a part and genetic factors also as migraines do tend to run in families. Migraines are 2-3 times more common in women than men and it is thought that hormonal factors may contribute.

Many triggers for migraines have been identified though the relationship between the trigger and the migraine is much stronger in some sufferers than others. Stress, hunger, fatigue, menstrual status, trigger foods, air quality and lighting have all been proposed as potential triggers.

Though much research has been done in this area, the cause of migraines remains unknown. There are several proposed theories including a biochemical and a vascular link but a definitive answer remains elusive. It seems likely that many factors combine to result in the sufferer's pain.

Chiropractic has been shown to be helpful for migraine prevention in some cases. Discussion of lifestyle and environmental factors is also useful as is keeping a journal of headaches to help identify and avoid potential causative factors. Your chiropractor will be able to help you with this. 

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