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Headaches are one of the top pain-causing culprits. Nearly two-thirds of Canadian adults suffer from headache related pain. While some can be debilitating, over 99% of headaches are benign, or harmless. Of these benign headaches, most can be placed into one of three categories: cervicogenic headache, tension headache, and migraine headache. For each of these types of headaches, chiropractic care can be beneficial, even essential, for pain relief.

What is a cervicogenic headache?

Cervicogenic headaches account for 15-20% of recurrent headaches and are commonly linked to head/neck trauma. Damage to or dysfunction of the bony and/or soft tissue structures of the upper neck causes pain to be referred from the base to various places along the top and front of the skull. That is, the cervical (neck) spine and its associated structures are responsible for the headache.

These headaches start in neck and spread along one side of the head to temples, eye, or forehead. Pain is aggravated by neck movement and/or sustained poor posture. Decreased range of motion and tight and tender neck muscles are common findings in sufferers. Other symptoms associated with cervicogenic headaches can include nausea, vomiting, flushing, dizziness, photophobia (sensitivity to light), and phonophbobia (sensitivity to sound).

Being that cervicogenic headaches are the result of musculoskeletal dysfunction, chiropractic care – including spinal adjustments, soft tissue therapies, rehabilitation exercises, and possible suggestion of herbal anti-inflammatory agents – is an effective, non-invasive treatment method for control and long-term prevention.

What is a tension headache?

According to the International Headache Society, tension-type headaches are the most common type of headache among adults, effecting up to 80% of adults. This type of headache stems from muscular stress caused by unphysiological positions and postures, long-lasting tonic contractions, stress, and/or a lack of rest.

Tension headaches present as a tight, pressing sensation on both sides of the head. Tension headaches do not throb, but are frequently described as a “band-like” pressure. Unlike migraine and cervicogenic headaches, tension headaches are not associated with nausea/vomiting or light/sound sensitivity, nor are they aggravated by physical activity.

Due to the etiology, spinal adjustments, soft tissue therapies, postural exercises, and relaxation techniques are ideal treatment methods for tension headaches.

What is a migraine headache?

A migraine is a common and disabling headache. These headaches effect 10-15% of the population and can be triggered and initiated by hormones, certain foods/food additives, alcohol, stress, lack of sleep, and medications, among other factors.

Migraines are divided into two categories: migraine with aura and migraine without aura. While a migraine with aura is the “classic” migraine, it is not the common presentation. Auras are nervous system symptoms that precede or accompany the migraine and can be in the form of visual, sensory, motor, or verbal disturbances.  The migraine itself presents as throbbing pain, usually on only one side of the head. Other symptoms include photophobia, phonophobia, nausea/vomiting, blurred vision, lightheadedness, and neck tension.

Research has shown that chiropractic care (spinal adjustments, soft tissue therapies, nutritional recommendations, and home care exercises) can be an effective way to reduce the frequency and duration of migraines.


Our North Vancouver chiropractors are well trained to effectively treat headaches related to and/or causing musculoskeletal dysfunction, as well as identify any potential red flags. Contact our doctors for more information on how chiropractic care can help relieve headache related pain.