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Is Your Headache A Tension Or Migraine Headache?

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Tension headaches caused by stress or muscle strain are more common than migraines. They lead to a steady ache and tightness in the back of the neck. Migraines, severe and often genetic, are accompanied with nausea and a pre-warning aura (noise or light) and are triggered by food, odors, and light. Treat both with chiropractic spinal manipulation, self-trigger point therapy, and deep tissue release.

Most likely, everyone reading this article has had a headache at one time or another.

The American Headache Society reports that nearly 40% of the population suffers from episodic headaches each year, while 3% have chronic tension–type headaches.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 29.5 million Americans experience migraines, but at a frequency of 5 to 1, tension headaches are more common than migraines.

Knowing the difference between the two is important as the right diagnosis can guide treatment in the right direction.

Tension Headaches

These typically result in a steady ache and tightness located in the neck, particularly at the base of the skull, which can irritate the upper cervical nerve roots, resulting in radiating pain and/or numbness into the head.

At times, the pain can reach the eyes but often stops at the top of the head. Common triggers include stress, muscle strain, and anxiety.

Migraine Headaches

Migraines are often much more intense, severe, and sometimes incapacitating. They usually remain on one side of the head and are associated with nausea and/or vomiting.

An “aura”, or a pre-headache warning, often comes, with symptoms such as a bright flashing light, ringing or noise in the ears, and a visual floater.

For migraine headaches, there is often a strong family history, which indicates genetics may play a role in their origin.

Headache Causes And Triggers

There are many causes for headaches. Commonly, they include lack of sleep and/or stress, and they can also result from a recent injury — such as a car accident and/or a sports injury — especially when accompanied by a concussion.

Certain things can “trigger” a migraine:

  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits
  • Cured meats
  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Diet (skipping meals)
  • Dried fish
  • Dried fruit
  • Exercise (excessive)
  • Eyestrain
  • Fatigue (extreme)
  • Food additives (nitrites, nitrates, MSG)
  • Lights (bright, flickering, glare)
  • Menstruation
  • Medicines (some)
  • Noise
  • Nuts
  • Odors
  • Onions
  • Sleep (altered patterns)
  • Stress
  • Red wine/alcohol
  • Watching TV
  • Weather.

Posture Is Also A Factor

Posture is also a very important consideration. A forward head carriage is not only related to headaches but also neck and back pain.

We’ve previously pointed out that every inch (2.54 cm) the average 12 pound head (5.44 kg) shifts forward adds an EXTRA 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of load on the neck and upper back muscles to keep the head upright.

Cure And Treatment

Research shows chiropractic care is highly effective for patients with both types of headaches. The common approaches utilized by chiropractors are:

  • Spinal manipulation
  • Deep tissue release techniques
  • Nutritional counseling

Patients are also advised to use some of these self-management strategies at home as part of their treatment plan:

  • The use of ice
  • Self-trigger point therapy
  • Exercise (especially strengthening the deep neck flexors)
  • Nutritional supplements
Dr. Blake Kalkstein DC, MS, CCSP, TPI, ART

While earning his D.C. degree, Dr. Blake worked as a chiropractic intern at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital in Bethesda, MD where he had the privilege to work in the amputee rehabilitation center. Dr. Blake’s post graduate sports medicine internship with John’s Hopkins Sports Medicine orthopedic surgeons allowed him to observe all types of injuries. Guidance from Dr. John Wilckens, team orthopedist for the Baltimore Orioles and his internship supervisor, led Dr. Blake to better understand advanced orthopedic and sports injuries and ways to appropriately manage each condition.

Dr. Blake Kalkstein DC, MS, CCSP, TPI, ART

While earning his D.C. degree, Dr. Blake worked as a chiropractic intern at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital in Bethesda, MD where he had the privilege to work in the amputee rehabilitation center. Dr. Blake’s post graduate sports medicine internship with John’s Hopkins Sports Medicine orthopedic surgeons allowed him to observe all types of injuries. Guidance from Dr. John Wilckens, team orthopedist for the Baltimore Orioles and his internship supervisor, led Dr. Blake to better understand advanced orthopedic and sports injuries and ways to appropriately manage each condition.

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