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Tension Headaches - More than Stress

Posted in Head Pain Disorders on Apr 02, 2020

Tension Headaches - More than Stress

Are tension headaches just a matter of stress?

Tension headaches are NOT simply a matter of stress.

Stress is simply the thing that pushes your body OVER THE LIMIT to the point that you develop a nasty, gnarly tension headache. 

If you have been dealing with elevated stress for the past few weeks (or months or years!), you’ve probably found that the frequency and intensity of your tension headaches have gone up.

You’ve likely tried the common medical treatments like Panadol and Nurofen. Maybe a cold or warm shower too. However, if you find yourself taking more medication than you want and you’re concerned about the long term effects on your liver, then you’ve probably asked yourself, “What else can I do?”

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If you’ve likely noticed the pattern that your tension headaches are worse when you’re stressed - including staring at your computer or phone - then you’ve probably concluded that the cause of your tension headaches is simply due to stress. 

However, let me ask you: if your tension headaches are caused by stress, why does it only affect your head and your neck? 

  • Why don’t you get the same pain in your elbow?
  • Why don’t you get the same pain in your low back?
  • Why do your tension headaches affect you only up at the top of your neck and head?

The reason may well be because stress is the catalyst, but not the cause of your tension headaches.

 

Tension headaches cause and effect

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Think of it as a bush fire. By itself, the fire is a problem. However, when you add drought and a warm wind into the mix, then you have the potential for a catastrophic wildfire!

So when it comes to tension headaches, the drought and wind are the stress … but the fire - the cause of your tension headaches - is likely something else.

And when it comes to firefighting, you NEVER hear about firefighters trying to control the drought or the wind (i.e., the stress). Their aim is to put the fire out by addressing the cause.

Medical doctors and headache specialists all the way back in the 1970s concluded that the underlying cause of 90% of all headaches - including tension headaches - is due to a physical injury of the upper neck that causes irritation to the muscles and nerves in that area.

So let me ask you: if the cause of your tension headaches is physical in origin, how will a chemical solution (e.g., Panadol or Nurofen) fix the physical problem?

The answer is, “They can’t!” Yes, the medication can successfully help treat the symptoms of your tension headaches but they can’t fix the underlying cause.

So if you’re tired of simply taking medication to just treat the symptoms of your tension headaches and if you’re ready to do something different to really improve the quality of your life in both the short term and the long term, I’d like to share this information with you about a different approach to healthcare that may be able to help address the underlying cause of your tension headaches.

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It is a natural, non-surgical and non-drug approach called upper cervical care

 

The upper neck and tension headaches

An upper cervical is a unique approach to health that focuses on the relationship between the top vertebrae in your neck and your nerve system. 

  • The top vertebra in your neck is called the C1 vertebra or the “atlas” because it supports the weight of your head (3-5Kg, which is like a bowling ball).
  • The second vertebra in your neck is called the C2 vertebra or the “axis” because it contains a pivot point, which allows you to turn your head sideways.
  • The third vertebra in your neck doesn’t have a fancy name and is known as the C3 vertebra.

The reason that these three vertebrae are so important is that the nerves that exit your spine at these levels are the ones that supply sensory and pain information about your neck, head, and brain. 

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  • The C1 nerve often supplies the sensation behind the eyes and of a “sinus headache.” It may also be involved with the sensation of migraine headaches.
  • The C2 nerve supplies the back of your head and the temples. This is often the major nerve involved with tension headaches.
  • The C3 nerve supplies the back of your skull at the top of your neck. This is often the nerve involved with occipital neuralgia headaches.

(As an aside, it fascinates me that when people think of a condition like sciatica, which is a radiating pain into the legs, they immediately think that they need surgery … but when people think of a condition like tension headaches - radiating pain into your head and brain! - the common attitude is to just take a Panadol and “she’ll be right.”)

There may be additional reasons for people to experience tension headaches including certain brain conditions, blood pressure issues and even digestive or organ health issues. Nevertheless, the essential take-home message here is that up to 90% of all headaches may well be the actual result of a physical or mechanical problem with this three vertebra: C1, C2 or C3.

So if you do experience tension headaches, it is of critical importance that you have your health properly assessed to identify the underlying cause of your tension headaches, and not simply rely on Panadol or Nurofen to treat the symptoms.

 

Natural approaches to helping tension headaches

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In some ways, I may not have mentioned anything that you did not already know about tension headaches.

If you are the type of person who prefers natural approaches to improving and maintaining your health, then you have likely tried a variety of approaches to help with your tension headaches:

  • Chiropractic
  • Physiotherapy
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture
  • Naturopathy

You may even have had good results with some of these approaches! However, if you are reading this article, it is my suspicion that your tension headaches keep happening.

And so you’re likely wondering how this approach called upper cervical care is any different?

Before I continue, I must preface that as long as we live on planet Earth, we are all subject to three universal forces:

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  1. Time
  2. Gravity
  3. The continued stresses of daily living

We cannot control these factors, and they never go away. So like the drought and wind I mentioned at the start of this article on firefighting, we have to acknowledge that these forces will never go away. What is means on the topic of tension headaches is that there is not, nor will there ever be a 100% “cure” for tension headaches that cause them to go away forever and ever.

However, there can still be a BIG difference between having tension headaches every day versus having only one a week … or only one a fortnight … or only once a month … or only once a year! 

Because I can’t read your mind, I would simply ask you to imagine: what would it mean in your life if you would reduce the frequency or severity of your tension headaches by 50-90%.

Would it be worth it?

So keeping that in mind, let me tell you how upper cervical care is DIFFERENT from the other approaches that you may have tried before.

 

Upper cervical care and tension headaches - A different approach

If you have never heard about upper cervical care before, it is completely understandable. There are only 10-20 upper cervical healthcare practitioners in all Australia!

Upper cervical care is a specific division of chiropractic, but remarkably different from standard spinal manipulation. First are foremost, this is NOT the type of chiropractic where people think of “twisting” or “cracking” the neck. 

There is no twisting or cracking with the method of upper cervical care that we use.

Upper cervical has been developed and researched in the USA since 1930. It is a precise and customized approach for correcting misalignments of the upper neck: the C1, C2, and C3 vertebrae.

And here is the MAJOR difference between upper cervical care and other forms of healthcare.

The first is DIAGNOSTIC ACCURACY. Every person has a different bone structure. It is critical when you are looking at physical, mechanical problems in the neck that you identify what the problem actually is. For this reason, upper cervical chiropractic doctors perform a series of precise x-rays that help to illustrate the exact direction and degree of misalignments in the upper neck.

What this means is that we often discover misalignments that require a different direction of correction than most standard manual natural therapists use.

In our own practice, what we find is that the majority of people who have people with tension headaches actually have are FORWARD MISALIGNMENTS OF THE VERTEBRAE IN THEIR NECK. To the best of my knowledge, upper cervical care is one of the only methods of healthcare that I know that addresses FORWARD MISALIGNMENTS in the neck.

The second is PRECISION. When we know the exact degree and direction of misalignment in YOUR neck, we can provide a truly customized correction to help restore alignment and motion in your neck.

When we have this information, we don’t need to use much force, twist or crack your neck at all! In fact, the type of procedure that we use - the Blair upper cervical technique - uses no more force than you would use to feel your pulse. Moreover, it is performed so that your neck is in a neutral position so that there is no need to twist or crack anything at all!

Many people actually remark that when they experience an upper cervical correction is that they didn’t feel anything at all! But make no mistake, when we’re dealing with such an important area of the body, even the lightest of impulses - specifically applied - can make a powerful difference!

 

Tension headaches, upper cervical care, and the next logical step

So if you’re ready for a different, natural approach to addressing your tension headaches, upper cervical care may be right for you.

We hope that this article has made emotional and logical sense, and I hope you agree with us that even if upper cervical care isn’t a magic cure for tension headaches, that it just makes sense and may well be the missing piece to the puzzle so that you don’t need to just tolerate tension headaches or take Panadol or Nurofen forever. 

Our practice, Atlas Health Australia, is the premier upper cervical health center in Brisbane. Our resident upper cervical chiropractic doctor is Dr. Jeffrey Hannah. He is an advancer certified practitioner of the Blair technique and has studied additional methods including NUCCA and the Atlas Orthogonal (AO) technique. He is an international lecturer, speaker, and published author.

If you have any specific questions, Dr. Jeff is happy to have a chat. Of office is happy to provide a 15-minute free phone consultation where you can discuss your specific condition and ask any questions that you may have to decide if care is right for you.

To schedule a no-obligation consultation, simply click the Contact Us link on this page, or call us at 07 3188 9329. 

Atlas Health Australia - “Helping people enjoy a better quality of life.”

 

References

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Braaf MM, Rosner S. Trauma of the cervical spine as a cause of chronic headache. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. May 1975;15(5):441-446).

Bragatto MM, Bevilaqua-Grossi D, Benatto MT, et al. Is the presence of neck pain associated with more severe clinical presentation in patients with migraines? A cross-sectional study. Cephalalgia. 2019 May 27:333102419854061. doi: 10.1177/0333102419854061. [Epub ahead of print]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31132869 

Edmonds J. The cervical spine and headache. Neurology, 1988;38(12):1874-8.

Gaul C, Meßlinger K, Holle-Lee D, Neeb L. [Pathophysiology of Headaches]. [Article in German]. Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 2017 Mar;142(6):402-408. doi: 10.1055/s-0042-111694. Epub 2017 Mar 22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28329901 

Mingels S, Dankaerts W, Granitzer M. Is There Support for the Paradigm 'Spinal Posture as a Trigger for Episodic Headache'? A Comprehensive Review. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2019 Mar 4;23(3):17. doi: 10.1007/s11916-019-0756-2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30830498

Millstine D, Chen CY, Bauer B. Complementary and integrative medicine in the management of headache. BMJ. 2017 May 16;357:j1805. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j1805. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28512119 

Teng CC, Chai H, Lai DM, Wang SF. Cervicocephalic kinesthetic sensibility in young and middle-aged adults with or without a history of mild neck pain. Man Ther. 2007 Feb;12(1):22-8. Epub 2006 Jun 14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16777468

Whittingham W, Ellis WB, Molyneux TP. The effect of manipulation (toggle recoil technique) for headaches with upper cervical joint dysfunction: a pilot study. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1994;17(6):369-75.

Wong JJ, Shearer HM, Mior S, et al. Are manual therapies, passive physical modalities, or acupuncture effective for the management of patients with whiplash-associated disorders or neck pain and associated disorders? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders by the OPTIMa collaboration. Spine J. 2016 Dec;16(12):1598-1630. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.08.024. Epub 2015 Dec 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707074

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