Common Causes of Headaches

Allergy, Pain, Stress | June 9, 2017 | Author: Naturopath


Common Causes of Headaches

Headaches are very common, being the most common neurological symptom experienced. Around 15% of Australians take pain-relieving medication for a headache at any given time. Headache is a term used to describe aching or pain that can occur in different regions of the head or face. It’s a characteristic symptom of many conditions and proper treatment requires accurate determination of the cause.

Types of headaches

There are many different types of headaches. Some of the most common forms include:

tension headacheTension headache. This type of headache can last from 30 minutes to several days and is the most common type. These headaches are accompanied by a concomitant feeling of tenderness, tightness and stiffness in the muscles in the neck, back, jaw and shoulders. Symptoms are intermittent and are commonly experienced in the temples and/or across the forehead and at the back of the head. It is often described as a tight band of pressure around the head.

Tension headaches can be caused by physical or emotional stress, poor posture, misalignment of the neck and spine and muscle tension.

Cluster headache. These headaches are relatively uncommon and mainly seem to affect men. The pain is usually severe and localised to one eye which may cause swelling and watering of the eye. They can be triggered by alcohol and excessive smoking but sometimes the cause is unknown.

Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) headache. If the teeth of a person’s upper and lower jaw are misaligned, this can cause muscle tension in the jaw which can lead to a headache. Stress and jaw clenching can also cause a TMJ headache. Treatment in this instance can include visiting a dentist to correct the bite and in extreme cases surgery may be needed.

Infection. Many infections in the body can cause a headache, particularly if they occur in the nose, throat or ear. An example of this is a sinus headache—caused by an infection in one or more of the sinus cavities.

headache food additivesHeadache caused by diet and food. Various kinds of diet-related headaches involve a reaction to certain foods or food additives, such as MSG or naturally occurring chemicals in foods, such as amines or histamine. Skipping meals or strenuous diet can lead to low blood sugars and result in spasm of the arteries in the head. Caffeine withdrawal and a hangover from excessive alcohol are other common causes of diet-related headaches.
Click Here For Article on Food Sensitivities

Eyestrain headache. Intense visual activities, such as computer work or reading can cause eye strain and result in a headache. Muscle imbalances in the eye, uncorrected vision and astigmatism are often underlying causes of eye strain. It’s important if you suffer from eye strain that you visit an optometrist.
Click Here For Article on Eyestrain

Other causes of headaches include high blood pressure, certain medications, aneurysm and hormonal imbalances.

How to get relief

Manual therapy

A series of treatment sessions conducted by an osteopath, chiropractor or massage therapist provide physical techniques to reduce pain levels, relieve muscle tension and provide relief to other musculo-skeletal conditions.

headache massaging A meta-analysis of five clinical trials of 206 patients with tension-type headaches compared manual therapy with drug treatment for four to six weeks.

Immediately as the treatment commenced the frequency of headaches significantly improved in the group receiving manual therapy.

A reduction in intensity of the headache was also experienced.


Adequate hydration is essential to avoid dehydration and a resulting headache. An individual’s fluids need each day will vary but to aim for at least eight glasses of water is a great general rule. If there has been excessive sweating from exercise or hot weather perhaps this amount may need to be increased.

Frequent protein-rich meals

Making sure you’re blood sugars are balanced is an important way to avoid a headache. Skipping meals and subsequent low blood sugars has been identified as a headache trigger in more 50% of participants in one study. Eating small, frequent meals with a balance of wholegrains, fibre and protein helps contribute to stable levels of sugars in the blood.

Food allergy and intolerances

headaches allergiesThere is a wide range of foods, food additives and natural chemicals in foods that some people may be sensitive to – leading to headache. Some examples that have been proven in research include red wine, an artificial sweetener called aspartame, allergenic proteins in cow’s milk, food dyes, sulphites and foods high in histamine, amines and nitrates. Although this can be a tricky area to navigate through, getting advice from a health care professional who specialises in this area can be very helpful in finding an exact cause.


If a headache is stress related, B vitamins may be of assistance to provide support to the nervous system. Riboflavin or vitamin B2 seems to have the most amount of research conducted in preventing migraine headaches but it has also been shown to reduce attack frequency and number of days with a headache. Vitamin B3 or niacin has also demonstrated effectiveness of migraine headaches and headaches of other aetiologies. Niacin is believed to dilate blood vessels—assisting blood flow to the brain, relieving tension and constriction. If headaches occur due to hormonal balances, especially premenstrual syndrome, then vitamin B6 has shown to be helpful for this

Supplementing with magnesium could be beneficial in resolving headaches. Magnesium functions as a muscle relaxant which can assist is reducing blood pressure and preventing muscle spasm. A good quality magnesium supplement taken daily can help prevent headaches if they occur frequently—particularly if they are due to muscle tension in the eye, neck, shoulders, back and jaw.

headache bathHaving a warm bath with magnesium flakes is another way to relieve muscular aches and pains. Applying magnesium topically is also a good idea if you are at work etc and can feel the tension your neck and shoulders. Magnesium is available as a spray or roll on making it easier to get relief.

Lavender oil

For quick relief try applying lavender oil on the temples or on your pillowcase. Lavender oil acts as a gentle sedative—reducing anxiety, muscle spasm and pain levels. Lavender oil has been proven to be helpful in providing relief for migraine sufferers but it may provide similar benefits for those who suffer from headaches.


Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia

Millstine D, Chen CY, Bauer B. Complementary and integrative medicine in the management of headache. BMJ. 2017 May 16;357:j1805

Sun-Edelstein C, Mauskop A. Alternative headache treatments: nutraceuticals, behavioural and physical treatments. Headache. 2011 Mar;51(3):469-83

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