Types of headache, and what causes them

Many people visit the chiropractor to tackle headaches – they’re an incredibly common problem but one which can be debilitating if allowed to get out of control. Did you know, however, that all headaches are not the same and understanding which kind of headache you’re suffering with can help to narrow down the cause and target the best treatment?


A problem for everyone

Almost everyone will experience a headache at some point in their life, and over 50% of people will deal with the effects of headaches in a given year[1]. Many headaches can be caused by simple issues such as tension or even just tiredness further down the spine – often in the neck, this means that many, many headache cases are not a significant medical problem, nonetheless for people dealing with chronic headaches…they can dramatically impact your quality of life.


Types of headache

The International Headache Society has actually classified over 150 different types of headaches! This once again shows just how common the problem is – however, the most common by a long way are migraines, tension and cluster headaches.

  • Migraine: A migraine headache – in addition to the obvious pain in the head – typically includes sensitivity to light and sound and approx. 1/3rd of people will experience an aura (an unusual visual distortion) before the onset of a migraine.
  • Tension: Tension headaches are the kind of headache that almost everyone will experience at some point in their life. Stress, anxiety, dehydration, and even just poor posture, can trigger a tension headache.
  • Cluster: Cluster headaches are thought to affect more men than women. Cluster headaches cause a more severe pain behind or around the eye, but typically last for a shorter duration than a migraine headache – anywhere between 15 minutes to 3 hours is typical.


Top headache causes

So what causes these kinds of headaches, and how can we treat them? Ironically, one of the most common causes of headaches is the medication usually prescribed to treat headaches. In fact, overuse of many over the counter medications is a leading factor in a refractory (sometimes called bounce-back) headache, which is why medication may not always be the best option for care, especially in the longer term[2]. Many tension headaches get their start with repetitive motion and poor posture while sitting or standing at work. Keeping your shoulders back and your spine in proper alignment throughout the day can help prevent future episodes. And finally, most of the good stuff like coffee, cheese, alcohol and meats have substances that can cause headaches. You don’t need to eliminate them, but some kinds of headaches – especially migraine – may be linked to consuming them in too large an amount.


Help for headaches

Chiropractic is an excellent approach for treating headaches, especially tension headaches caused by poor posture or stress originating in the spine. Treatment for these kinds of headaches is often especially quick and effective. Migraine and cluster headaches tend to be more complicated and many people do find that chiropractic care can help in reducing them, however, individuals with these kinds of headaches often need to make some lifestyle changes, such as avoiding certain foods to keep them at bay.

Whatever kind of headache you have a trip to the chiropractors could be an excellent way to move forward – both in terms of identifying your headache and indeed, ruling out other causes.




[1] Mayo Clinic. Headache. 2018


[2] Medications and Substances Causing Headache. Medlink: Neurology. 2017


Blog by / February 25, 2022 / Blog

Dr. Paul Irvine is a doctor of chiropractic who graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of NSW and in 1996, attained his Master of Chiropractic degree from Macquarie University in Australia. He practised in North Sydney for 5 years before he left Australia to travel and practise in the UK. He joined Complete Chiropractic in 2003 (est 1999) and took over the clinic in 2007