What Is a Headache and What Are the Underlying Causes?

Differentiating Common Types of Headache

If you are looking for the definition of a headache, that is a simple. A headache is a continuous pain that occurs in the head. Symptoms may vary depending on the type of headache condition you are experiencing. Some head pains may last a few minutes, while others may last a few days. However, headaches have a few things in common.

  • All headaches involve head pain – This is why migraines are technically not a type of head pain but are rather a neurological condition. Only about 85% of migraines present with a pulsing or throbbing headache. This is the main migraine and headache difference.
  • Pain relievers don’t cure a headache – This is the primary misconception about headaches. Most people take over-the-counter pain medication and the pain goes away. Problem solved! Except the problem hasn’t actually changed at all. Pain medications don’t correct the underlying issues. This means that head pains can recur. Also, it is important to note that many of these medications are known to cause rebound headaches if taken too frequently. Thus, many patients have unwittingly made the problem worse.
  • Headache causes and triggers are not the same things – While certain foods, the weather, or forms of sensory stimulation may bring on a head pain, these are not the causes of the head pain. They merely triggered the present episode. Avoiding triggers may reduce how often you experience headaches, but it won’t eliminate them completely.

Causes of Headaches

With these facts in mind, please consider the following underlying causes of headaches.

#1 Dehydration

This is a shockingly common cause of headaches and one of the simplest problems to fix. All you have to do is make sure you drink enough water every day. The body requires 8-12 cups of water per day. If you think you drink enough water, try keeping track for a week (there are some apps that can help you to track things like this). You may discover you don’t drink nearly as much water as you thought and only a fraction of what you need. If drinking more water ends your headache problems, then you have found the source of your headaches and eliminated it.

#2 Cold Foods and Drinks

We’ve all had an “ice cream headache” or brain freeze.” Whatever you want to call it, there is a scientific explanation as to why you get a head pain when you consume cold foods or beverages too quickly. It has to do with the blood vessels that flow along the roof of the mouth as well as the stimulation of nerves that are temperature sensitive. With this in mind, be sure to eat and drink cold foods and beverages at a slower pace. That’s a quick fix to this type of headache.

#3 Caffeine Withdrawal

Most of us realize that caffeine is a drug. It is a legal drug, but it still causes a physiological reaction in the body, and a person can develop a dependency. If you recently cut caffeine out of your diet and that’s when the headaches began, you may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Interestingly, many over-the-counter pain relievers contain caffeine for this very reason.

On the other hand, if your headaches are due to the next of our reasons, caffeine may actually help your headaches in moderation.

#4 Reduced Blood Flow to the Brain

One commonality that researchers have discovered when it comes to headaches (and often migraines as well) is that blood flow to the brain may have been reduced, thereby leading to the headaches. In this case, a little caffeine may improve blood flow.

At the same time, it is important to realize that caffeine doesn’t correct the underlying cause of the blood flow changes. For example, a misalignment in the neck can affect blood flow because the vertebral arteries have to pass through the vertebral foramen (tiny loops of bone that are attached to the cervical vertebrae and facilitate blood flow to the brain).

#5 Traumatic Brain Injury

Many people experience their first headaches or migraines following a head injury or concussion. It may be lumped in with the other symptoms of post-concussion syndrome such as vertigo, irritability, insomnia, confusion, and many other indicators. Any time a person suffers an injury to the head, the neck may have suffered a misalignment. So once again, the underlying issue may go back to blood flow to the brain. However, a C1 (atlas) misalignment can also cause:

  • Changes in brainstem function
  • Intracranial pressure due to inhibited cerebrospinal fluid drainage.

Either of these conditions can also lead to chronic headaches.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic and Headaches

With so many of the underlying causes of headaches relating back to the neck, it is no wonder that neck pain often accompanies or even precedes head pains. For example, one migraine study revealed that 75% of patients experience neck pain. That makes neck pain nearly as common of a symptom as a headache when it comes to migraines.

Since many patients find their headaches began following head or neck trauma, it just makes sense to get an examination from a trained professional. Upper cervical chiropractors use diagnostic imaging to detect misalignments down to hundredths of a degree. These precise measurements allow us to offer gentle corrections that are safe and effective.

If you suffer from headaches or migraines, especially if you have suffered a head or neck injury in the past, we urge you to seek the care of an upper cervical chiropractor near you. You may find that just one or two adjustments provide the natural relief you have been searching for.

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The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.