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In this video, Dr. Huntoon discusses the underlying cause of ALL headaches and what you need to consider to remedy yours once and for all.

Click on any of the links to the right, listen to our radio show on Headaches or scroll down for the information you need to understand your headaches.

When you are ready to solve your headaches, please give us a call.

Headaches            To attend a FREE CLASS on this Topic, click here.

What is a headache?

A Headache is defined as a pain in the head or upper neck. It is one of the most common locations of pain in the body and has many causes.

How are headaches classified?

Headaches have numerous causes, and in 2007 the International Headache Society agreed upon an updated classification system for headache. Because so many people suffer from headaches and because treatment sometimes is difficult, it is hoped that the new classification system will allow health care practitioners come to a specific diagnosis as to the type of headache and to provide better and more effective treatment.

There are three major categories of headaches:

  1. primary headaches,
  2. secondary headaches, and
  3. cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches

What are Primary Headaches?

Primary headaches include migraine, tension, and cluster headaches, as well as a variety of other less common types of headache.

Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache. Up to 90% of adults have had or will have tension headaches. Tension headaches occur more commonly among women than men.

Migraine headaches are the second most common type of primary headache. An estimated 28 million people in the United States (about 12% of the population) will experience a migraine headache. Migraine headaches affect children as well as adults. Before puberty, boys and girls are affected equally by migraine headaches, but after puberty, more women than men are affected. It is estimated that 6% of men and up to 18% of women will experience a migraine headache in their lifetime.

Cluster headaches are a rare type of primary headache affecting 0.1% of the population (1 in a 1,000 people). It more commonly affects men in their late 20s though women and children can also suffer these types of headache.

Primary headaches can affect the quality of life. Some people have occasional headaches that resolve quickly while others are debilitated. While these headaches are not life-threatening, they may be associated with symptoms that can mimic strokes or intracerebral bleeding.

What are Secondary Headaches?

Secondary headaches are those that are due to an underlying structural problem in the head or neck. There are numerous causes of this type of headache ranging from bleeding in the brain, tumor, or meningitis and encephalitis, as well as others.

What are cranial neuralgias, facial pain, and other headaches?

Neuralgia means nerve pain (neur= nerve + algia=pain). Cranial neuralgia describes a group of headaches that occur because the nerves in the head and upper neck become inflamed and become the source of the pain in the head. Facial pain and a variety of other causes for headache are included in this category.

Primary Headaches

Let us now look at the 3 main types of Primary headaches and how to address them.  Again they are Tension, Migraine and Cluster headaches.

1)Tension Headaches

What causes Tension Headaches?

While tension headaches are the most frequently occurring type of headache, their cause is not known. The most likely cause is contraction of the muscles that cover the skull. When the muscles covering the skull are stressed, they may spasm and cause pain. Common sites include the base of the skull where the trapezius muscles of the neck inserts, the temple where muscles that move the jaw are located, and the forehead.

There is little research to confirm the exact cause of tension headaches. Tension headaches occur because of physical or emotional stress placed on the body. These stressors can cause the muscles surrounding the skull to clench the teeth and go into spasm. Physical stressors include difficult and prolonged manual labor, or sitting at a desk or computer for long periods of time concentrating. Emotional stress may also cause tension headaches by causing the muscles surrounding the skull to contract.

What are the symptoms of Tension Headaches?

The pain symptoms of a tension headache are:

The pain begins in the back of the head and upper neck and is described as a band-like tightness or pressure.

Often is described as pressure encircling the head with the most intense pressure over the eyebrows.

The pain usually is mild (not disabling) and bilateral (affecting both sides of the head).

The pain is not associated with an aura (see below), nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound.

The pain occurs sporadically (infrequently and without a pattern) but can occur frequently and even daily in some people.

The pain allows most people to function normally, despite the headache.

How are Tension Headaches diagnosed?

The key to making the diagnosis of any headache is the history given by the patient. The health care practitioner will ask questions to understand when the headache began, learn about the quality, quantity, and duration of the pain, and ask about any associated symptoms. The history of tension headache will include pain that is mild to moderate, located on both sides of the head, described as a tightness that is not throbbing, and not made worse with activity. There will be no associated symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or light sensitivity.

The physical examination, particularly the neurologic portion of the examination, is important in tension headaches because it should be normal to make the diagnosis. The only exception is that there may be some tenderness of the scalp or neck muscles. If the health care practitioner finds an abnormality, then the diagnosis of tension headache would not be considered until the potential for other types of headaches have been investigated.

How are Tension Headaches treated?

Tension headaches are painful, and patients may be upset that the diagnosis is "only" a tension headache. Even though it is not life-threatening, a tension headache can affect the activities of daily life.

The Alternative Perspective

Alternative treatment for Tension Headaches (Consider this first)

Many Alternative Healthcare Practitioners such as a Holistic Chiropractor, Acupuncturist, Homeopath or Naturopath have had great success in treating headaches. Holistic Chiropractors look to understand the cause of your headaches by determining where you have nerve pressure and nerve interference related to the nerves that cause headaches.  Addressing the underlying reason for the nerve pressure (Subluxation) is the specialty of a Chiropractor.  This form of care is the best initial form of treatment and most times, no other treatment is necessary.

The Medical Perspective

Medical treatment for tension Headaches

Most people successfully treat the symptoms with over-the–counter (OTC) pain medications to control tension headaches. As with all medications (prescription or over-the-counter) there are side-effects that may be worse than the initial headache.  Discussing these with your medical doctor or pharmacist is warranted before beginning any medication. 

The following over-the–counter medications work well for most people:


ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil),

acetaminophen (Tylenol) and

naproxen (Aleve)

As with any medication, there are the potential for side-effects which can lead to other health concerns. Most notably, your liver will have to process the chemicals found in these medications. The effects of these medications can lead to arthritis and other joint related problems, abdominal bleeding and indigestion.

If these fail, other supportive treatments are available. Recurrent headaches should be a signal to seek medical help. Massage, biofeedback, and stress management can all be used as adjuncts to help with control of tension headaches.

It is important to remember that OTC medications, while generally recognized as safe, are medications and may have side-effects and potential interactions with prescription medications. It always is wise to ask your health care practitioner or pharmacist if you have questions about OTC medications and their use. This is especially important with OTC pain medications, because patients use them so frequently.

It is important to read the listing of ingredients in OTC pain medications. Often an OTC medication is a combination of ingredients, and the second or third ingredient may have the potential for drug interaction or contraindication with medications a patient is currently taking. For example:

Some OTC medications include caffeine, which may trigger rapid heartbeats in some patients.

In night time preparations, diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may be added. This may cause drowsiness, and driving or using heavy machinery may not be appropriate when taking the medication.

Other examples where caution should be used include the following:

Aspirin should not be used in children and teenagers because of the risk of Reye's Syndrome, a disease where coma, brain damage, and death can occur if there is a viral like illness when the and aspirin is  used.

Aspirin and ibuprofen are irritating to the stomach and may cause bleeding. They should be used with caution in patients who have peptic ulcer disease or who take blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin) and clopidogrel bisulfate (Plavix).

Acetaminophen, if used in large amounts, can cause liver damage or failure. It should be used with caution in patients who drink significant amounts of alcohol or who have liver disease.

One cause of chronic tension headaches is overuse of medications for pain. When pain medications are used for a prolonged period of time, headaches can recur as the effects of the medication wear off. Thus, the headache becomes a symptom of the withdrawal of medication (rebound headache).

Medicines Two Choices for You

Your Solution

How Can Tension Headaches be prevented

Working with a Holistic Chiropractor who can address all the underlying causes of your tension headaches is warranted.  Developing a well-rounded, multifaceted approach is the best way to support the person who experiences tension headaches.  Removing any nerve pressure related to the tension headaches is the best form of care to help address the cause of the tension headaches.

2) Migraine Headaches

What is a Migraine Headache?

A migraine headache is a primary headache disorder that affects approximately 12% of the population. It is a headache that tends to recur in an individual and is moderate to severe if left untreated. It can be one sided, throbbing and aggravated by routine physical activity. It can be associated with light and sound and even smell sensitivity and many patients will become nauseated with it. In a minority of patients there can be visual or sensory changes before, during or after the headache, known as auras.

Who is affected by migraines?

The National Headache Foundation estimates that nearly 30 million Americans suffer from migraines. Migraines occur about three times more frequently in women than in men. Each migraine can last from four hours to three days. Occasionally, it will last longer.

What causes a migraine? 

The exact causes of migraines are unknown, although they are related to changes in the brain as well as to genetic causes. People with migraines may inherit the tendency to be affected by certain migraine triggers, such as fatigue, bright lights, weather changes and others.

For many years, scientists believed that migraines were linked to the expanding (dilation) and constriction (narrowing) of blood vessels on the brain’s surface. However, it is now believed that migraine is caused by inherited abnormalities in certain areas of the brain.

There is a migraine "pain center" or generator in the mid-brain area. A migraine begins when hyperactive nerve cells send out impulses to the blood vessels leading to the dilation of these vessels and the release of prostaglandins, serotonin and other inflammatory substances that cause the pulsation to be painful.

Certain brain cells that use serotonin as a messenger are involved in controlling mood, attention, sleep, and pain. Therefore, chronic changes in serotonin can lead to anxiety, panic disorder, and depression.

What triggers a migraine?

Many migraines seem to be triggered by external factors. Migraine sufferers can help the physician identify these triggers. Possible triggers include:

Emotional stress is one of the most common triggers of migraine headache. Migraine sufferers generally are highly affected by stressful events. During stressful events, certain chemicals in the brain are released to combat the situation (known as the "flight or fight" response). The release of these chemicals can provoke migraine. Repressed emotions surrounding stress, such as anxiety, worry, excitement and fatigue can increase muscle tension and dilated blood vessels can intensify the severity of migraine.

Sensitivity to specific chemicals and preservatives in foods. Certain foods and beverages, such as aged cheese, alcoholic beverages, and food additives such as nitrates (in pepperoni, hot dogs, luncheon meats) and monosodium glutamate (MSG, commonly found in Chinese food) may be responsible for triggering up to 30% of migraines.

Caffeine. Excessive caffeine consumption or withdrawal from caffeine can cause headaches when the caffeine level abruptly drops. The blood vessels seem to become sensitized to caffeine, and when caffeine is not ingested, a headache may occur. Caffeine itself is often helpful in treating acute migraine attacks.

Changing weather conditions such as storm fronts, barometric pressure changes, strong winds or changes in altitude

Menstrual periods


Excessive fatigue

Missing meals

Changes in normal sleep pattern

Are migraines hereditary?

Yes, migraines have a tendency to run in families. Four out of 5 migraine sufferers have a family history of migraines. If one parent has a history of migraines, the child has a 50% chance of developing migraines, and if both parents have a history of migraines, the risk jumps to 75%.

What are the symptoms of migraines?

The symptoms of migraine headaches can occur in various combinations and include:

Type of pain

The pain of a migraine can be described as a pounding or throbbing. The headache often begins as a dull ache and develops into throbbing pain. The pain is usually aggravated by physical activity. 

Severity/Intensity of pain 

The pain of a migraine can be described as mild, moderate, or severe. Untreated the headache will become moderate to severe 

Location of pain 

The pain can shift from one side of the head to the other, or it can affect the front of the head or feel like it’s affecting the whole head. 

Duration of pain

Most migraines last about 4 hours, although severe ones can last up to a week. 

Frequency of headaches

The frequency of migraines varies widely among individuals. It is common for a migraine sufferer to get 2-4 headaches per month. Some people, however, may get headaches every few days, while others only get a migraine once or twice a year. 

Associated symptoms 

Sensitivity to light, noise and odors

Nausea and vomiting, stomach upset, abdominal pain

Loss of appetite

Sensations of being very warm or cold

Paleness (pallor)



Blurred vision

Diarrhea (rare)

Fever (rare)  

Warning signs 

Symptoms that signal the onset of a migraine are used to describe two types of migraine dysfunction: 

Migraine with aura (formerly known as "classic" migraine)

Migraine without aura (formerly known as "common" migraine)  

"Aura" is a physiological warning sign that a migraine is about to begin. 

What are the symptoms of migraines with aura? 

Migraines with auras occur in about 15-20% of migraine sufferers. An aura can occur before, during, or after the pain occurs and last from 15 to 60 minutes. The symptoms always last less than one hour. Visual auras include: 

Bright flashing dots or lights

Blind spots

Distorted vision

Temporary vision loss

Wavy or jagged lines  

There are also auras that can affect the other senses. These auras can be described simply as having a "funny feeling," or the person may not be able to describe the aura. Other auras may include ringing in the ears (tinnitus), or having changes in smell (such as strange odors), taste, or touch. 

Rare migraine conditions include these types of neurological auras:  

Hemiplegic migraine: temporary paralysis (hemiplegia) or neurological or sensory changes on one side of the body. The onset of the headache may be associated with temporary numbness, dizziness or vision changes. 

Retinal migraine: temporary, partial or complete loss of vision in one eye, along with a dull ache behind the eye that may spread to the rest of the head. 

Basilar artery migraine: dizziness, confusion or loss of balance can precede the headache. The headache pain may affect the back of the head. These symptoms usually occur suddenly and can be associated with the inability to speak properly, ringing in the ears, and vomiting. This type of migraine is strongly related to hormonal changes and primarily affects young adult women. 

Status migrainosus: a rare and severe type of migraine that can last 72 hours or longer. The pain and nausea are so intense that people who have this type of headache often need to be hospitalized. Certain medications, or medication withdrawal, can cause this type migraine syndrome.

Ophthalmoplegic migraine: pain around the eye, including paralysis in the muscles surrounding the eye. This is an emergency medical condition, as the symptoms can also be caused by pressure on the nerves behind the eye or an aneurysm. Other symptoms of ophthalmoplegic migraines include droopy eyelid, double vision, or other vision changes.

What are the symptoms of migraines without aura?

Migraines without auras are more common, occurring in 80 to 85 percent of migraine sufferers. Several hours before the onset of the headache, the person can experience vague symptoms, including:



Fatigue or tiredness

How are migraines treated?

Alternative treatment for Migraine Headaches (Consider this first)

Many Alternative Healthcare Practitioners such as a Holistic Chiropractor, Acupuncturist, Homeopath or Naturopath have had great success in treating headaches. Holistic Chiropractors look to understand the cause of your headaches by determining where you have nerve pressure and nerve interference related to the nerves that cause headaches.  Addressing the underlying reason for the nerve pressure (Subluxation) is the specialty of a Chiropractor.  This form of care is the best initial form of treatment and most times, no other treatment is necessary.

Working with an Acupuncturist, Homeopath or Naturopath is also warranted before seeking medication from your medical doctor. 

As with all medication, be aware of side-effects and complications associated with taking the medication. 

Medical treatment for Migraine Headaches 

Many medications are available to treat migraines.  Ask your doctor or pharmacist about these, as having an understanding of what to expect is warranted before starting any medication. 

Symptomatic relief: Symptomatic relief medications are used to relieve symptoms associated with headaches, including the pain of a headache or the nausea and vomiting associated with migraine.

Over-the-counter medications are effective for some people with migraines. The main ingredients in pain-relieving medications are ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen, and caffeine. Be cautious when taking over-the-counter pain-relieving medications, because sometimes they can contribute to a headache, or their overuse can cause analgesic-rebound headaches or a dependency problem. If you are taking any over-the-counter pain medications more than three times a week or daily, it’s time to see your health care provider, who can suggest prescription medications that may be more effective.

Anti-nauseants are often needed to relieve nausea that accompanies migraines.

Abortive medications are most effective when used at the first sign of a migraine to stop the process that causes the headache pain. By stopping the headache process, abortive medications help prevent the symptoms of migraines including pain, nausea, light-sensitivity, etc. Abortive medications work by constricting the blood vessels, bringing them back to normal and relieving the throbbing pain.

Preventive (prophylactic) medications may be prescribed when the headaches are severe, occur more than two or three times a month and are significantly interfering with normal activities. Preventive medications reduce the frequency and severity of the headaches and are generally taken on a regular, daily basis.

All of these treatments should be used under the direction of a headache specialist or physician familiar with migraine therapy. As with any medication, it is important to carefully follow the label instructions and your physician’s advice.


Biofeedback training can also help. People can learn to recognize stressful situations that trigger migraines so they can learn to control these situations. If the migraine begins slowly, many people can use biofeedback to stop the attack before it becomes full blown.

Medicines Two Choices for You

How can migraines be prevented?

Working with a Holistic Chiropractor who can address all the underlying causes of your migraine headaches is warranted.  Developing a well-rounded, multifaceted approach is the best way to support the person who experiences migraine headaches.  Removing any nerve pressure related to the migraine headaches is the best form of care to help address the cause of the migraine headaches. 

Identifying and then avoiding migraine triggers should reduce the frequency of your migraine attacks. 

Recalling what was eaten prior to an attack may help you identify chemical triggers and make the necessary dietary changes to avoid these triggers in the future.  

Women who get migraines during their menstrual periods typically find relief during pregnancy and after menopause. Hormonal treatment of migraines has not been satisfactory, however. Generally, becoming aware of the menstrual cycle patterns as they relate to the onset of the headaches can help you take preventive action against the headaches. 

Stress management and coping techniques, along with relaxation training, can help prevent or reduce the severity of the migraine attacks. 

Migraine sufferers also seem to have fewer attacks when they eat on a regular schedule and get adequate rest. 

Regular exercise—in moderation—can also help prevent migraines.


  • National Headache Foundation. Migraine. www.headaches.org/ 
  • Ropper AH, Samuels MA. Chapter 10. Headache and Other Craniofacial Pains. In: Ropper AH, Samuels MA, eds. Adams and Victor's Principles of Neurology. 9th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2009. www.accessmedicine.com/.
  • Goadsby PJ, Raskin NH. Chapter 14. Headache. In: Longo DL, Fauci AS, Kasper DL, Hauser SL, Jameson JL, Loscalzo J, eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 18th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2012. www.accessmedicine.com/.

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