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