Ask a Chiropractor: What Causes Headaches?

November 30, 2023

Hurting from headaches?

Read on to learn what causes headaches and how a chiropractor can help.


Whether it’s daily migraines or the occasional pain, headaches affect nearly every person on the planet at some point in their lives.

Yet even as you’ve taken an over-the-counter pain reliever, you might have wondered what causes headaches so you could prevent such a thing from happening in the future.

While some headache causes are a medical mystery, others have a rational explanation (and an even easier solution). Stay with us while we talk about the different types of headaches, what causes headaches, and how you can treat or prevent certain kinds of headaches without medications.



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Types of Headaches

There are many different types of headaches, but they can all be lumped into one of two categories, primary headaches and secondary headaches.

Primary headaches originate within the nerves and pain sensors in your head. They aren’t a symptom of any underlying disease or condition and seem to occur “out of nowhere.” In fact, the exact cause of these types of headaches is still unknown.

Secondary headaches, on the other hand, arise as a symptom of an underlying illness or condition. Treat the underlying cause, and the headache will resolve itself.

Some of the most common causes of secondary headaches are, viral infections (such as a cold or flu), dehydration (including hangovers), concussions, and medications. Less commonly, headaches can also indicate the presence of a blood clot, aneurysm, or tumor in the brain.

young woman holding hands on her head during headache

What Causes Tension Headaches?

Tension headaches are one of the most common types of headache pain. They often feel like a tight band around the head and temples.

While their exact cause is unknown, some experts believe that tension headaches are caused by muscle tension in the neck and shoulders, sending a “ripple effect” of pain through the scalp.

What Causes Cluster Headaches?

Cluster headaches typically cause pain on one side of the head or around the eye. They can be extremely painful and manifest themselves in groups or “clusters” of attacks. Each headache may last up to a few hours, with the “cluster” of headaches lasting from days to weeks.

Experts aren’t entirely sure what causes cluster headaches, but many believe that a sudden release of histamines or serotonin could be to blame.

What Causes Migraines Headaches?

More than just a “bad” headache, migraines are an extremely debilitating condition. Symptoms of a migraine headache include a throbbing pain, nausea, changes in vision, dizziness or vertigo, and other side effects.

The underlying causes of migraines are not yet known, but they can be triggered by a variety of factors:

  • Stress
  • Hunger
  • Caffeine
  • Light and sound
  • Hormonal changes
  • Weather
  • Overexertion
  • And more.

Man holding hands on side of his head

Why Do Headaches…Well, Ache?

You probably remember from high school Biology class that the brain itself doesn’t actually feel pain. So why do headaches hurt so much?

Ultimately, your nervous system is what causes headaches, back aches, neck pain, and all of the other pain you feel. When the nerves are stimulated in a particular way, they send a signal to the brain that says, “Ouch! Something’s wrong!”

During a tension headache, for example, the muscles in the head and neck contract (i.e. tighten), which can put pressure on the nerves. Alternatively, a misalignment of the neck vertebrae can put pressure on the nerves.

If you can pinpoint the thing triggering your headache, there’s a good chance you can treat it without resorting to pain medications.

Many joint misalignments will put pressure on nerves. Nerve pressure causes a contraction of the muscles as well as the brain tissue (which is also a muscle). This muscle contraction results in a headache.

Once you have an adjustment, the resulting headache is often resolved immediately or within a few hours.


Chiropractic For Headaches

Chronic tension headaches may only affect around 3% of the population, but they are a big deal for those individuals who are in such pain for much of their daily lives.

How can chiropractic adjustments help?

Model of the spine showing nerves running through vertebrae

As you can see in the image above, your nerves (represented by the yellow tubes) run through the spinal column, branching out between the vertebrae to reach other areas of the body.

It’s easy to see how a nerve could be compressed with even a minor misalignment of these vertebrae. But how do vertebrae get misaligned in the first place?

Car accidents can force joints out of their proper position, but it isn’t just sudden trauma that can cause a misalignment (or subluxation). Repetitive motion, poor posture, and even sleeping in a bad position can cause your bones to slip out of alignment.

Remember, your bones are held together by tendons and ligaments. These thick, stretchy cords are designed to move and flex; that’s what allows your body to move. But that same flexibility that makes back-and-forth motion so fluid and comfortable can also allow those same joints to shift from side-to-side, causing them to become misaligned.

Chiropractic treatment to correct this misalignment will let the nerve “rest” and relieve your pain.

If tense muscles are to blame, a medical massage can help release trigger points and alleviate headaches. Regular medical massages can also reduce stress, which can cause headaches in the first place.



Headaches are an uncomfortable part of modern-day life. But you don’t have to take them lying down (or with a dose of ibuprofen). For chronic migraines and tension headaches, a chiropractor can provide lasting relief without resorting to prescriptions or surgery.

At Oviedo Chiropractic, we are fully equipped to diagnose and treat spinal subluxations that could cause headaches, back pain, and other symptoms. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and see how we can help you!

Justin Cough

Dr. Justin Cough, D.C.

Dr. Cough graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Port Orange, FL after receiving his BS in Education from SUNY Oswego. Before becoming a chiropractor, he coached many middle and high school sports teams including football, lacrosse, basketball, and soccer. He is passionate about focusing on our bodies' natural healing mechanisms and helping his patients enjoy the utmost sustainability in their lives.

For some, chiropractic offers relief from pain. For others, it's about feeling and looking good. Call today and see what chiropractic can do for you!

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Oviedo Chiropractic

2871 Clayton Crossing Way Suite 1073
Oviedo, FL 32765
(407) 542-1614
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