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Reasons You Get Horrible Headaches

If you’ve ever experienced a really bad headache, then you understand what it feels like to go through a busy day’s activities while suffering. It can be absolutely horrible!

Not all headaches are the same and some of the most common classifications include:

Regardless of what type of headache you have, you may be able to reduce the frequency by identifying what causes them.

Here’s a look at the most common triggers for each kind of headache.


I know it’s easy for everyone to blame their problems on stress.

But the truth is, emotional and physical stress play a strong underlying role in nearly every chronic health condition you can imagine.

Seventy-five to 90% of primary care visits have been reported to be stress related.

Stress not only impacts us emotionally, but it causes tight muscles in the shoulders and neck — a primary reason behind tension headaches.

Tension headaches start in the muscles. When tension headaches become frequent, the pain in shoulder and neck muscles is felt by the brain as pain in the head.

Stress is also a common trigger for migraines.

Whether your stress is emotional or physical, the amount of cortisol that’s released causes a cascade of chemical events that almost certainly triggers migraine headaches.


Contrary to what most people think, it’s more likely that we under eat than over eat.

Hunger itself can trigger a migraine or tension headache.

And when it comes down to it, you can be eating a whole lot of food, but that doesn’t mean you’re nurturing your body.

The United States is one of the most overfed countries in the world, but at the same time, malnourished.

This is because highly processed, industrialized foods provide little to no nutrients.

But eating certain foods may trigger migraines.

It could be just one type of food — like beans or nuts — or many foods, such as avocados, bananas, cheese, chocolate, citrus, fish, dairy products and onions.

Processed foods with nitrites, nitrates, food dyes or monosodium glutamate can be especially problematic.

For further consultation and a review of your personal diet, make an appointment.

Alcohol Intake

Alcohol is a common cause of migraine and cluster headaches.

For some people, a few ounces of red wine are all it takes to provoke a headache, although any kind of alcohol can be a trigger.

It’s not clear if the alcohol itself is to blame or if another component in the drink causes the problem.

Alcohol intolerance is also a sign of liver dysfunctions and nutrient depletion.

So, if you find that you always have a headache after drinking beer or wine, you might have nutritional deficiencies that are causing your problems.


Cluster headaches seem to be seasonal and often happen in the spring or fall.

Other environmental factors such as bright light, smoke, humidity, intense scents, or cold weather are associated with migraine headaches.


Changes in estrogen levels are associated with migraines in women, and women suffer from migraines more often than men.

Menstrual cycles may be tied to migraine in younger women.

Varying estrogen levels during perimenopause can sometimes start migraines in women who never experienced them before.

Estrogen therapy and birth control may also be a migraine trigger.

Sleep Disturbance

A lack of sleep is commonly associated with migraines and tension headaches.

We don’t know why, but we do know there’s a correlation and that sleep can lead to pain relief.

Sometimes people just feel better after taking a nap and this is a strong indicator of inadequate sleep.

Spine & Joint Health

Research shows that chiropractic adjustments – one of the primary treatments provided by doctors of chiropractic – may be an effective treatment option for tension headaches and headaches that originate in the neck.

A 2014 report in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT) found that interventions commonly used in chiropractic care improved outcomes for the treatment of acute and chronic neck pain and increased benefit was shown in several instances.

Also, a 2011 JMPT study found that chiropractic care, including spinal manipulation, improves migraine and cervicogenic headaches.

What Can You Do?

Understanding your headache triggers can help you avoid getting headaches in the future.

But identifying triggers can be tricky, especially if you have more than one (like several kinds of food).

We recommend keeping a journal to note the day, time, symptoms, and circumstances surrounding your headache (What have you eaten? Where did it happen?).

If avoiding triggers isn’t enough to keep headaches at bay, then consider getting your spine analyzed by a Doctor of Chiropractic.

While prescription medications are certainly an option, it’s one that doesn’t come without risk and side effects.

Other pill-free treatments (acupuncture, meditation, biofeedback, relaxation therapy) might also help.

— Dr. Riley Powell, DC

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