Did you know that your average headache relief medication is simply hiding the symptoms of your headache? Imagine if proper treatment was to address the root cause of headaches.

45 million Americans suffer from chronic headaches each year. Up to 4% of the world’s population experience chronic daily headaches.

There are many different types of headaches, such as migraines or tension headaches. Some types stem from different root causes.

At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we believe in treating the underlying causes of headaches. A headache is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong — and you can often fix what’s truly wrong with the right care.

Even some traditional medicines are just masking the symptoms of your headaches, instead of treating the underlying cause. In other words, you may not have a headache because you are ginger-deficient.

Let’s take a look at what a headache is, what causes them, and how to treat the root causes.

What causes a headache?

A headache (AKA head pain) is caused by many different headache triggers.

For instance, a primary headache is likely caused by abnormal activity around structures in the head that are pain-sensitive. This can involve muscular activity, blood vessels, and nerves in the head or neck.

A tension headache can be caused by stress and bad posture. Another common cause is strenuous activity.

However, a secondary headache has all sorts of potential root causes.

You can get a secondary headache due to dehydration, medication overuse, caffeine withdrawal, allergies, infections, or issues with your spine.

It is important that you consult a healthcare professional to help identify the root cause of your headache. It may be a simple fix, such as diet, stress relief, or a chiropractic adjustment.

If you live in the greater Denver area, click here to request an appointment at Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. We reserve Fridays for out-of-town patients.

Types of Headaches

Primary Headaches

Primary headaches are thought to be triggered by issues in your blood vessels — often benign issues that only lead to headaches, nothing else.

Primary headache disorders make up more than 90% of headache-related pain.

There are four main types of primary headache: tension, migraine, cluster headaches, and hemicrania continua.

Tension Headaches

First on our list, tension headaches are the result of bad posture or stress. This causes the back of the neck and your scalp muscles to tighten. A tension headache feels like the sides of the head are squeezing in.

A tension-type headache is the most common type of headache. Women over 20 years old are at highest risk.

Noise and stuffy environments can strengthen a tension headache.

Tension headaches can last for minutes or days.


Migraine headaches are the second most common kind of headache. Chronic migraines affect millions of Americans every year. Many consider this the worst headache you can get.

Migraine symptoms include intense throbbing pain, stiff neck, and anxiety. It can be accompanied by light or noise sensitivity.

Where tension headaches cause tension on both sides of your head, a migraine is usually on only one side of your head. Migraines can last hours, or even days.

Some people will experience an “aura” (a set of visual symptoms) before a migraine attack:

  • Bright spots
  • Flashing lights
  • Moving lines
  • Temporary loss of vision (in severe cases)

Cluster Headaches

The third most common primary headache is the cluster headache, which affects about a million people in the United States each year.

A cluster headache does not throb. They are often felt behind an eye or on one side of the head only.

Cluster headaches can occur multiple times a day, and they are more common in adult men.

A cluster headache is likely triggered by increased blood flow due to widening blood vessels.

Hemicrania Continua

This is a rare headache disorder. Hemicrania continua exhibits headache symptoms but usually only on one side of the head. The cause is unknown, but hemicrania continua persists, with only a handful of documented remissions.

Secondary Headaches

Secondary headaches are caused by an underlying medical condition instead of just an abnormality in your blood vessels.

These are less common, but still important to understand. Since it is important to treat the root cause of your headache — not just mask the symptoms — it can be helpful to see all the possible secondary causes laid out for you.

Here are the twelve common types of headaches (secondary) you need to understand:

1. Cervicogenic Headaches

Though cervicogenic headaches can mimic migraines, cervicogenic headaches originate from the cervical spine or base of the skull.

A cervicogenic headache can be brought on by poor posture, a pinched nerve in your neck, osteoarthritis, whiplash trauma, or a prolapsed disc.

2. Spinal Headaches

Spinal headaches happen when cerebrospinal fluid slowly leaks — usually after a spinal tap, epidural, or spinal block for anesthesia.

3. Sinus & Allergy Headaches

Your sinuses are typically filled with air. So, when inflammation irritates your sinuses (a sinus infection, AKA sinusitis), the pressure triggers a sinus headache.

4. Caffeine Headaches

In some cases, caffeine can lead to a headache, but more commonly, “caffeine withdrawal headaches” occur after you stop consuming caffeine.

Caffeine causes blood vessels in your brain to constrict. This slows blood flow. When you remove caffeine from your daily routine, this causes blood vessels to expand, which often triggers a headache.

5. Medication Overuse Headaches

Also called “rebound headaches,” medication overuse headaches can occur after you decrease dosage or completely stop taking certain medications. These medications are typically anti-inflammatories and painkillers that alleviate headache pain.

After stopping these medicines, you might expect to get a headache:

  • Acetaminophen, like Tylenol
  • Ergotamine, such as Ergomar
  • Sumatriptan, like Zomig or Imitrex
  • Painkillers, such as Percocet
  • Opiate analgesics, like hydrocodone

6. Meningitis Headaches

Meningitis headaches arise due to the inflammation of the membranes that protect the skull, brain, and spinal cord.

Meningitis is an infection of membranes, called meninges.

7. Post-Traumatic Headaches

You may get headaches after a head trauma. If a headache develops immediately following a head injury, seek immediate medical attention.

Head trauma may also result in chronic headaches.

8. Brain Tumor/Aneurysm Headaches

If you have a brain tumor or brain aneurysm (AKA brain bleed), this can cause a headache.

Since there is only so much room in the skull, a tumor or bleeding both push outwards on the skull. Pressure on the brain and skull trigger a headache.

9. Hypnic Headaches

A hypnic headache is a headache that wakes you up.

Unlike most headaches which decrease in frequency with age, hypnic headaches are more common at 50 years old and up.

There is mild throbbing but no sensitivity to light or sound. Though rare, hypnic headaches may be biologically connected to your circadian rhythm.

10. Hypertension Headaches

Hypertension (high blood pressure) can lead to headaches because it messes with your blood-brain barrier.

This is a controversial type of headache. The American Heart Association, for instance, does not recognize hypertension headaches.

Although conflicting, there are several studies that show a strong correlation between high blood pressure and headaches.

11. Dehydration Headaches

When you don’t have enough fluid in your body, you can develop a dehydration headache.

You need the right balance of fluids and electrolytes in your system to function. Usually, you replenish the fluids you lose in sweat and urination with drinking and eating. But sometimes, you just get dehydrated.

When you don’t have the proper levels of fluids, your brain shrinks, pulling away from the inside of your skull. This triggers a headache.

12. Hangover Headaches

Drinking too much alcohol can result in a hangover the next day. A hangover can include a splitting headache, due to the combined effects of excess alcohol and the dehydration that comes with excessive alcohol.

Cranial Neuralgias, Facial Pain, and Other Headaches

Cranial neuralgia (nerve pain in your head) refers to inflammation in one of your 12 cranial nerves that control muscles and send pain signals to and from your head and neck.

One widely recognized cranial neuralgia is trigeminal neuralgia. This affects your fifth cranial nerve, which can cause profound facial pain when the nerve is inflamed or irritated.

How to Get Rid of Headaches For Real!

We want you to get rid of your headache for real, by treating the underlying causes, not just brushing the superficial symptoms under a rug.

Lots of headaches are “cervico-genic” headaches — generated in the cervical spine and felt in the head. That’s why they so frequently involve neck pain and uncomfortable motion.

We employ thorough exams with 3-D imaging to get the best picture of your spinal health. Unknowingly, people have misalignments that contribute to terrible headaches.

Using gentle, instrument-assisted adjustments, we can address the upper cervical misalignment  patients deal with. Commonly they see improvement in intensity, duration or frequency — many times, all three get better!

While it’s important to assess individual needs before making promises, nearly every patient ever adjusted for migraines has seen resolution in their headaches.

For those on the road to recovery, you may want to check out the below all-natural treatment options, medications, and simple lifestyle changes. These may reduce headaches from occurring in the first place and aid in recovery. 

Natural Remedies & Essential Oils for Headaches

There are some great reasons for treating what ails you with all-natural methods. And there are some encouraging, research-backed treatment options.

Riboflavin (vitamin B2) has shown significant preventative effects for migraines.

Magnesium seems to prevent migraines in a significant number of patients.

If you want pain relief while you treat the underlying causes of your headache, you might find the following natural pain relievers helpful:

Medicine for Headaches

Our goal as an upper cervical chiropractic clinic is to offer drug-free headache and migraine treatment by correcting the root cause of each patient’s pain. Pharmaceuticals come with adverse side effects and are seldom preventive medications.

These common over-the-counter pain medications can temporarily give relief, but are not a long term solution:

  • Aspirin
  • Acetaminophen
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — like ibuprofen or naproxen 

Lifestyle Changes

These are some simple lifestyle changes that can make a huge impact on headaches. Lifestyle changes can address some common root causes of headaches, such as bad posture and stress.

Aerobic exercise several times a week has been shown to decrease the intensity of headaches — but maybe stay away from high-intensity workouts. For a few subjects, it also decreased the frequency.

A healthy diet is also important to prevent headaches. Many headache sufferers identify food triggers, such as food additives, wheat, dairy, an excess or lack of sugar. A healthy diet of whole foods should avoid chemical preservatives and inflammatory food agents.

Chiropractic care is essential for headache prevention since spinal misalignment can contribute to the majority of headaches. Studies show that going to a good chiropractor can reduce the frequency, duration, intensity of headaches — as well as medication reliance.

Excessive caffeine consumption can trigger headaches on the daily. This means six or more cups of coffee a day. However, periodic caffeine can help alleviate headaches.

Caffeine withdrawal also leads to headaches. Avoid cutting caffeine cold turkey — either from coffee, soda, tea, pills, etc.

A full night’s sleep can do wonders for your headaches. A full night’s sleep relieves stress and can lead to fewer migraines and tension headaches.

Stress-relieving practices can reduce the frequency of tension headaches, which are triggered by bad posture and stress. Meditation, yoga, looking away from the computer screen, and being outside have all been linked with a decrease in stress.

research-backed practice that requires some commitment is thermal biofeedback, learning to increase the skin temperature of your fingers. This involves hours of training and at-home sessions. But many studies confirm thermal biofeedback may be comparable to pharmaceuticals, without all those pesky side effects.

Diagnosing Headaches

As there are so many root causes of headaches, it is wise to seek medical advice when diagnosing a recurrent or overwhelming headache.

Your healthcare provider should consider your medical history (as detailed as you can get). He or she should also administer a physical, which should include a complete neurological evaluation.

Your healthcare provider may also need to run blood tests, take x-rays of the sinuses or skull, or — in severe cases — a CT scan or MRI.

Dealing with migraines and tired of getting only temporary relief? Let us help.

When to Get Help

The vast majority of headaches are not life-threatening by any means.

However, you should seek urgent medical attention if a headache’s onset immediately followed a head injury.

Also, if any of these symptoms occur, get to a hospital as soon as possible:

  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Facial numbness
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness in arms or legs
  • Convulsions

If you experience chronic or severe headaches, you may quickly want to seek medical help to diagnose and identify the underlying causes of your persistent headaches.

In Summary

  • Simply put, a headache is head pain caused by a number of factors, often a misalignment of the upper cervical spine.
  • Tension headaches are the most common headache, caused by stress or bad posture.
  • Migraine headaches are the second most common headache, affecting 25 million Americans each year.
  • Whether using pharmaceuticals or all-natural remedies, you should focus on treating the underlying cause of the headache, not just masking the symptoms.
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