Hidden Causes of Headaches & Migraines

Updated: Jan 12

Headaches are one of the most common health complaints that I see in my practice. Sadly, most people have suffered for years without any real correction and rely on pain medication for relief. My goal is to identify the cause and not just focus on the symptoms. It's important for me as a chiropractor to offer my patients a proper diagnosis, treatment, and natural solutions for their headaches and migraines. These suggestions are some you may not have considered.

1. Food Intolerances - Foods to Avoid

The most common foods that contribute to headaches and migraines are gluten, dairy, and sugar. I read a health article recently that stated that 80% of migraines originate in the gut. I've had patients start an elimination diet and after 30 days see incredible results. There is a ton of information out there on inflammatory foods and how they contribute to many health concerns. We now know that the root of most any health issue is inflammation. Certain foods create inflammation in the gut and can contribute to many pain syndromes including headaches. I believe that improving gut health is one of the most important things that you do for your health. I would consider supplementing with a probiotic. Not only does improving gut health decrease inflammation, it also improves your immune system function. 70% of your immune system health originates in your digestive tract. It's important to keep that space healthy.

2. Nutritional Deficiencies & Helpful Supplements

The most common nutrition deficiencies that we see with headaches and migraines are Magnesium and Vitamin D.

Magnesium is one of the most successful headache remedies. People who suffer from serious headaches, like migraines, often have low levels of magnesium and several studies suggest that magnesium may reduce the frequency of migraine attacks by 41.6%. Other research has shown that taking daily magnesium supplements can be effective at preventing menstrual-related migraines. I encourage my patients suffering with migraines to supplement with between 250 and 500 mg of magnesium a day. This is the brand I use and recommend.

Vitamin D deficiency is at the top of the list when it comes to contributing to headaches. And recent studies have shown that 70% of Americans have low levels. Many people who have difficulty sleeping, also are deficient in vitamin D and this combination further leads to more headaches. I recommend supplementing with vitamin D3 (D3 is the best form to take). Most nutritionists recommend staying within the therapeutic range of 3,000 to 5,000 units daily. (Approximately 25 units per pound of body weight).I

3. Dehydration

How does dehydration cause headaches? Every day, our body is stuck in a battle to retain the right balance of water and electrolytes, to make sure it can function properly. This is because we constantly lose fluid during the day through normal bodily functions such as urine, sweat and saliva – so it’s important that we consistently replace that fluid. When the human body loses more fluid than it retains, it will become dehydrated. If your body does become dehydrated, you may experience a variety of different symptoms, including increased thirst, a dry mouth, dark colored urine, fatigue or dizziness – and, of course, a headache. What does a dehydration headache feel like? Because headaches are a common symptom of many different conditions, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out whether the pain in your head is being caused by dehydration or by something else. Dehydration headaches may cause pain on all sides of your head, while a migraine may only cause intense pain on one side of the head and will often be accompanied by symptoms of nausea, vomiting, or light and sound sensitivity. Dehydration headaches will also feel different from a sinus headache, as dehydration headaches do not cause pressure or pain in the face, while sinus pressure headaches do. The first thing to do if you feel dehydration pain sweeping across your forehead is to reach for some water to help replace those lost fluids and balance electrolytes. But how much water should you actually be drinking each day? I recommend drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water daily. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs., you would need 75 ounces a day to stay hydrated. If you are actively exercises, you would need even more than that.

4. Neck Tension and Forward Head Posture

As a chiropractor, I assess where each patient might be structurally or mechanically compromised. Tension headaches are the most common type of headache that I see. These type of headaches are called cervico-genic meaning it's origin in is the cervical spine, the neck. You often feel tension across your shoulders and at the base of your skull. The headache pain can also radiate to the whole head, temporal and frontal regions. Studies suggest that chiropractic manipulation reduces tension and migraine headaches significantly. I also use a soft tissue technique called Myofascial Release to address the muscular and fascial restrictions.

Forward Head Posture, also called Text Neck or Reading Neck, is a posture pattern where the head goes forward in relationship to the shoulders. This anterior head carriage puts tremendous stress on the neck and shoulders and can cause a very painful headaches.

Proper posture is when the center of the ear lines up with the center of the shoulder. When forward head posture begins to develop and your head begins to move forward away from its balanced position, the weight of your head begins to increase. In fact, for every 1 inch your head moves forward, the relative weight of the head over the body doubles due to the effects of gravity. Treatment recommendations include chiropractic, posture corrective exercises, and stretching the muscles in the front of the torso such as the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor while also strengthening muscles in the back of the torso such as the rhomboids.

Work on improving your posture both when sitting or standing. Hold your shoulders back and your head level, parallel to the ground, instead of hunching forward. If you’re sitting for long hours at a desk, use a supportive chair, keep your computer screen at eye level, and stand as often as possible.

Essential Oils are also an excellent way to get natural tension headache relief. Essential oils can be applied to the painful side of the head, neck, temples and elsewhere to soothe muscular tension and stress. Lavender, Peppermint, Frankincense, Wintergreen & Chamomile are the best essential oils to relieve headaches. I handcraft essential oil blends and have a blend especially for these symptoms. Our Head & Neck Tension blend is a favorite with our patients. It soothes headache, neck, and muscle tension, supports migraine and TMJ relief, soothes mental fatigue, and is calming and relaxing.

5. Poor Sleeping Posture or a Bad Pillow

Poor sleeping posture and an unsupportive pillow can put stress on the neck and create misalignments of the spine and tight muscles. This can lead to headaches as we discussed earlier. Sleep on your side or back, but NEVER on your stomach. Sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees is the BEST position because we are able to maintain a more neutral posture. If you sleep on your side, be sure to keep your head and shoulders back and avoid rolling forward in the fetal position as this puts your head in forward head posture and creates neck tension. Only bend your knees slightly and put a pillow between your legs to keep your hips in a more neutral alignment. Think about our natural standing position with good posture and that's how you should look while sleeping.

Your pillow should be fairly firm and supportive. It should be the right height to keep your neck and spine straight and even. Side sleepers would need a pillow slightly thicker than pillows needed for back sleepers. Your chin shouldn’t be drawn in to your chest or leaned too far back. Most people use pillows that are too thin and the head is tilted all night. This causes the neck joints to become misaligned and leads to neck pain and even headaches.

6. TMJ Disorder

There is always a root cause for every headache. Because of the proximity of the jaw to the head, it’s easy for that pain to travel upward. There are also a number of nerves in the face that run right alongside the TMJ. This means a little bit of TMJ pain can create a big TMJ headache. If your teeth are misaligned or you grind or clinch your teeth, a condition called bruxism, you can develop dysfunction and pain at the TMJ.

Symptoms of TMJ dysfunction include popping of the joint, pain at the joint, difficulty opening your mouth and headaches. The headaches caused by TMJ can be misdiagnosed as migraines and TMJ can be a trigger for migraines. I recommend essential oils to be applied to the TMJ and at the base of the skull. Chiropractors are able to effectively diagnose and treat this condition. A consultation with your dentist would also be suggested. Applying essential oils to the jaw helps promote relaxation of the TMJ muscles and aids with the jaw aches that occurs.

7. Lack of Endocannabinoids (found in CBD hemp extract)

Recently, it has come to light that the endocannabinoid system, a network of neurotransmitters and cannabinoid receptors, plays a major role in our central nervous system and may influence migraines. Emerging research shows that many ailments may be related to dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system, or ECS for short. The ECS is involved with regulating appetite, sleep, pain, mood, memory, metabolism, immune function, digestion, and much more. Chronically low cannabinoid levels is believed to play a role in causing conditions like migraines, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome. In fact, a study looking at the endocannabinoid anandamide found that those who suffered from migraines had significantly less anandamide in their cerebrospinal fluid than those who did not experience migraines. Meaning: Low endocannabinoid levels could be the root of your migraine pain.