If you’ve ever experienced head pain, you understand the urgent need for relief. Specifically, a headache on top of the head may be treated long-term with chiropractic care, improved sleep, sleep apnea treatment, limiting caffeine, or other treatments that address potential root causes.

What are the symptoms of a headache on top of the head?

  • Constant or throbbing pain on top of head
  • Tightening sensation
  • Pressure
  • Neck pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Throbbing pain or pressure in the crown

Working with many patients with persistent headaches, I’ve seen that symptoms differ so much from person to person that there’s no way to identify a direct cause of a headache from the position of that headache by itself. As I break down the potential causes below, I’ll walk through the practical ways I help patients discover the disruptors to their normal function that may be causing headaches.

Note: I use a salutogenic approach to headache treatment. This means my primary focus is not just identifying a disease, but on identifying what health-promoting habits patients can add to their lifestyles and which habits or triggers to remove for optimal health. You’ll find evidence of that below as I walk you through reasons you’re getting these headaches.

Let’s take a look at the common reasons for headache on top of your head.

1. Poor Posture

Your posture might be causing your top-of-head headaches, especially if you sit in front of a computer all day.

Holding your head too far forward puts stress on the muscles and bones at the top of your neck, which leads to headaches all over your head: on top, on the sides, and in the back of the head.

I ask patients questions like these to identify poor posture:

  • How long do you sit in one position at work?
  • How would you rate your level of daily physical activity? Is it low, moderate, or high?
  • Do you regularly experience soreness in your neck, shoulders, or back after sitting in the same spot for a long period of time?

To be clear, your headaches are unlikely caused by one factor, like the type of chair you sit in at work. I ask these questions to get an overall picture of each patient’s physical activity level and what, holistically, can be addressed to reduce their headaches.

2. Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)

One major cause of headache disorders, particularly morning headaches, is grinding the teeth (also called bruxism).

Many people with bruxism grind their teeth as they sleep, which affects the muscles, bones, and joints of the jaw and skull and leads to headaches in adults.

Some studies found that sleep bruxism is a greater cause of headaches than waking bruxism while other studies found the opposite. All in all, teeth grinding increases your risk of headache.

Here are a few signs that you may be grinding your teeth:

  • You wake up with a sore jaw
  • Your TMJ (temporomandibular joint) feels strained or sore on a regular basis
  • Your sleeping partner notices you snore
  • You have diagnosed sleep apnea
  • Your dentist notices signs of grinding at your check-up
  • You notice yourself tightening your jaw frequently, especially when triggered by anxiety or frustration

3. Overusing Pain Relievers

Overusing over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers can lead to a type of headache called a rebound headache or medication overuse headache.

These usually occur when patients frequently use medication to treat their recurrent headaches over a long period.

Think about how often you use pain relievers. Do you follow dosage instructions? Do you change which medication you take so you’re not taking the same one every time? Are you using them for an injury, or for chronic pain without an identified source?

Here’s what I tell patients: If you’re having to take pain relievers for headaches on a weekly — or even monthly — basis, then something about your lifestyle probably needs to change. These medications are not intended for long-term or frequent/routine use.

4. Inconsistent Caffeine Consumption

Caffeine consumption can lead to rebound headaches, particularly if you’re used to drinking caffeine every day, or you’re trying to reduce how much caffeine you drink.

Having too much or too little caffeine is a common culprit of head pressure on top of the head.

I’ve found that most people I see in my practice have determined whether or not caffeine agrees with them or tends to trigger headaches. It’s a fairly simple habit to track in your daily life — take note of how you respond when your caffeine habits change.

I’m not anti-caffeine by any means; there’s a lot of evidence caffeine can be health-promoting. However, if you’re drinking hundreds of milligrams for a week straight and then have no caffeine for a few days in a row, that withdrawal could potentially trigger headaches. Getting far too much caffeine every day or drinking it fewer than 6-8 hours before bed (which disrupts your sleep) may also be a root cause of headaches.

5. Sleep Deprivation

Inconsistent and low-quality sleep are common causes of headaches, including top-of-head headaches.

In fact, one of the major symptoms of many sleep disorders is getting frequent headaches. Going to sleep or taking a nap may stop some headaches.

Each person is different, so I’m not a fan of saying that every person must sleep for exactly 8 hours, or that a specific sleep pillow will significantly improve your sleep quality, or that a specific sleeping position is the answer.

If you’re not waking up feeling sore every morning, it’s unlikely a mattress or pillow swap will be the answer to your problem. Instead, take a look at your sleep habits and figure out what’s best for your body. Here are a few ideas:

  • Ensure you’re going to sleep around the same time each night.
  • Avoid blue light exposure within a few hours before bed to allow your brain to wind down for the day.
  • Sleep in a chilly environment — between 60-65 degrees F is the ideal temperature for deep sleep.
  • Use journaling or meditation before bed to quiet your mind. (I find journaling helps me most.)
  • Make your bedroom a sanctuary for rest, relaxation, and sleeping. Try not to bring distractors into your bedroom like a phone, gaming console, TV, or computer.
  • Track your sleep enough to note the habits or changes that you respond best to. For instance, do you rest better and feel more alert the next day when you sleep 7 hours instead of 9? Does having white noise on in the background prevent you from reaching deep sleep?

You don’t need to purchase expensive equipment or apps for this. In fact, I find that super granular data creates more anxiety for patients when it comes to sleep tracking. Simply paying attention to how you feel when your sleep habits change is almost always enough information to make more health-promoting choices.

6. Head Injury

Head trauma can lead to chronic headaches, regardless of how severe the head injury was.

Research actually suggests that minor head injuries may be more likely to cause chronic daily headaches, cluster headaches, and other adverse symptoms than major injuries.

If you’ve recently suffered trauma to the head due to a car accident, fall, or other injury, give yourself time to heal.

I advise patients with recent headaches to rest, eat an anti-inflammatory diet, and avoid activities that make them feel strained or energy-depleted. Don’t run yourself into the ground after an injury, especially if you’re still dealing with obvious symptoms like a persistent headache.

7. Migraines

Migraines are severe headaches that feel like a throbbing pain on one side of the head (usually, but not always). They can happen with or without auras (visual or auditory disturbances that often precede migraine pain).

When helping a patient identify triggers for migraines, we typically start with a full upper cervical workup to align the atlas bone. The atlas is a very common issue that causes this specific type of headache.

In around 80% of cases in my practice, upper cervical care to address misalignment of the atlas resolves migraine headaches entirely. Keep in mind that treatment also addresses any number of lifestyle and dietary modifications that may help get rid of migraines.

Common migraine triggers include:

  • Stress
  • Too much light
  • Loud sounds
  • Medication overuse
  • Higher elevations (for instance, many patients I see with migraines in Denver have recently moved here from a lower-elevation area; some patients simply do better overall when in lower elevations)
  • Alcohol
  • Sleep changes
  • Hormone changes (this is far less common, but for patients who don’t respond well to upper cervical treatment, I recommend a blood panel to identify potential hormone-related causes)
  • Caffeine consumption changes
  • Changes in the weather (significant temperature drops, in particular)
  • Diet, such as chocolate, dairy, or processed meat
  • Certain smells

8. Tension Headaches

What is a tension headache? Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. They can happen for many reasons, including poor posture, muscle overuse, and spinal misalignment, which results in muscle tension that travels up to the head.

Tension-type headaches most often affect the sides of your head, but the pain can spread to the top of your head.

9. Occipital Neuralgia

The occipital nerves run up from the spinal cord toward the top of the head. Occasionally, these nerves can become inflamed, leading to occipital neuralgia. This pain is often described as either a piercing or a throbbing pain (occipital neuralgia can create the feeling of an “ice pick headache”).

Upper cervical chiropractic is extremely effective for occipital neuralgia headaches. The vast majority of patients with this specific type of pain have an upper cervical misalignment. The inflamed nerves responsible for this pain pass through the upper cervical complex, so correcting misalignment in that area of the spine can relieve occipital neuralgia pain.

What causes a headache on top of your head? Occipital neuralgia, migraines, poor posture, head injuries, and certain medications all cause your head to hurt at the top of your head.

Rare Causes of a Headache on Top of Your Head

Below are a few rare causes of headache pain on top of your head:

  • Hypertension HeadachesHypertension headaches happen when high blood pressure makes the pressure in and around your brain rise, which causes pain. These headaches can be a symptom of life-threatening high blood pressure, so seek medical care immediately if you have hypertension and a bad headache.
  • Blood vessel constriction — Constricting blood vessels in the head and brain can also cause pain at the top of your head. In some cases, these headaches are caused by reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS), a rare syndrome sometimes referred to as thunderclap headaches.
  • Sinus headaches — Most sinus headaches feel painful in the nasal area, cheeks, jaws, and teeth. However, occasionally patients with a sinus headache also feel sharp pain at the top of the head.
  • Hypnic Headaches — These are headaches associated with disordered sleep. Nighttime headaches on top of your head may be caused by hypnic headache pain.
  • Brain aneurysm — In the most severe case, a blood vessel may rupture in the brain, leading to severe headache. Other than a headache, symptoms of a brain aneurysm include generally feeling unwell, dizziness, confusion, seizures, unexplained muscle weakness, blurry vision, and a sensitivity to light. A cerebral aneurysm requires immediate medical attention.
  • Brain tumor — In rare cases, a tumor may be causing the severe pain on top of your skull. Talk to your healthcare provider about other symptoms of having a tumor.

Most of these issues frequently present with symptomatology that allows me to refer patients to the appropriate specialist for treatment.


If you suffer from headaches at the top of your head, you don’t have to live with that pain. There are highly effective treatment options to help treat headache pain when it happens and to help stop headaches from developing in the first place.

What is the best way to relieve a headache on top of your head? The best long-term way to get rid of a recurring headache on top of your head is with chiropractic care to align your vertebrae. Medication, massage, or stress relief may also relieve a headache in the short-term.


Conventional treatments for headaches on top of the head include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen
  • Triptans, such as Imitrex, Zomig, and Relpax (prescription required)
  • Muscle relaxants (prescription required)

These drugs may get rid of pain in the short term, but they don’t actually address the root problem of why you got a headache. They also have many side effects, and some can even interact with other common medications like certain classes of antidepressants.

Because overusing pain medication may actually cause headaches on the top of your head, aim to take them on a very infrequent basis. Needing pain relievers on a weekly or even a monthly basis is a warning sign to me that a patient may need lifestyle adjustments.

Chiropractic Adjustment

There’s a safe, natural option for treating these headaches that doesn’t involve taking a bunch of drugs: chiropractic care.

Many headaches, including headaches on top of the head, are caused by poor posture, spinal misalignment, and neck position. Chiropractic care helps bring your spine into alignment.

Problems with the upper cervical spine — the top two vertebrae — are strongly linked to head pain.

Chiropractic adjustments are one of the best ways to treat headaches, particularly headaches that keep recurring. They have almost no side effects (aside from feeling great after your adjustment), and you don’t have to worry about any drug interactions, either.

Chiropractic neck adjustments are highly effective at treating headaches. They bring your upper cervical spine into alignment, which keeps your neck and head bones, nerves, and muscles in the correct position, eliminating a major root cause of headaches.

How do you get rid of a headache on the top of your head naturally? You get rid of a headache on the top of your head immediately by taking medication, but all-natural chiropractic treatment can often correct the root cause of the headache as a more permanent solution.

Lifestyle Changes

Some headaches are caused by specific triggers, like hormone changes or diet. Headache triggers are unique to each person, so it may take a little trial and error to find your unique triggers. But even if you can’t identify a single trigger, adopting a healthier lifestyle has a fantastic chance of reducing the frequency of your headaches.

The most effective ways to reduce all headaches are the same basic healthy lifestyle habits that promote health:

  • Ensure you’re physically active every day. You don’t need to exercise every day, but your body should get several hours of movement each day. The goal is to avoid a highly sedentary lifestyle where you spend the vast majority of your time sitting or laying down.
  • Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Again, don’t overthink this — you don’t need to be strict on a keto or Paleo or vegan diet to “eat healthy.” Find what health-promoting foods you enjoy and make you perform your best, and fill your diet with those. Keep highly inflammatory treats (like sodas, sugary desserts, empty carbs, and processed foods) to a minimum.
  • Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep is a major headache trigger. Get 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night for your head (and for your overall health). As I mentioned above, take note of what sleep patterns contribute most to you feeling well, but try not to over-analyze sleep data.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration is a common cause of headaches. If you have chronic headaches, drink at least 96 ounces of water each day, and more if you’re exercising heavily or in a very hot environment. If your headaches abate, you can reduce your daily minimum to 64 ounces at the least, but take note of how this impacts your overall well-being. (You may just need more water than that to feel your best.)
  • Keep caffeine consumption consistent. Consuming too much (or too little) caffeine is an easy way to get a headache. Keep your caffeine intake constant, and don’t quit caffeine cold turkey. Don’t drink caffeine fewer than 8 hours before you go to bed.
  • Manage stress effectively. You can’t remove all stress from your life, but a healthy body is one that’s not subjected to constant distress. As much as you can, eliminate negative stressors from your life that deplete your energy. Focus on eustress (healthy sources of stress) like the rush you may get from participating in a competition, completing a challenging workout, or accomplishing something exciting at work. Use stress relief techniques (meditation, journaling, yoga, spiritual practices, or spending time outside) that invigorate you.
  • Intentionally build healthy relationships. Relationships are a primary source of stress for many of my patients. If a relationship in your life creates frequent stress or anxiety, consider proactive ways to improve that relationship or reduce the toxic impact it may have on your life. I often suggest patients in situations like these seek professional help from a counselor or other specialist if they feel unable to address the issues on their own.
  • Reduce alcohol intake — Drinking too much alcohol can cause dehydration headaches, and not just when you’re hungover. If you tend to get headaches after drinking, consider reducing or eliminating alcohol intake.
  • Practice good posture — If poor posture is causing headaches on top of your head, change your posture. Practice ideal posture while sitting, working, driving, sleeping, etc.

Alternative Pain Relief

The following remedies can reduce your headache pain, even though you’re not addressing the root cause. You may prefer these safe, natural options to medication.

  • Massage — Especially if a headache is caused by muscle tension, massaging the affected muscles can reduce head pain.
  • Acupuncture — Studies show that acupuncture is a significant pain reliever for headache sufferers.
  • Anti-inflammatory supplement — Fish oil, ginger, and vitamin D may help reduce inflammation that contributes to headaches. Vitamin B2 and magnesium may help with migraine headaches.

These treatments may help you in the short term, but they are not recommended as a replacement for identifying and addressing the underlying cause of your top-of-head headaches.

When To Seek Headache Help in Denver, CO

If you have an excruciatingly painful headache, head to the emergency room for medical advice. In the long term, seek out a chiropractor to identify if spinal misalignment is the root cause of the headache on top of your head.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms alongside a headache:

  • Severe, sudden headache
  • Intense headache occurring along with a stiff neck
  • Dizziness, vertigo
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Losing consciousness
  • Losing vision in one or both eyes
  • Headache pain right after recent head injury

What does it mean when you have pressure at the top of your head? It means you have a tension headache if you have pressure at the top of your head in most cases. If the pressure is severe or you’re worried about other symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.

Schedule an appointment with Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, and together, we’ll address your unique headache triggers through a personalized treatment plan. I look forward to working with you and helping you say goodbye to chronic headaches.

Read more: What To Expect at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic

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