Your friendly Chiropractor in Chandler AZ, Dr. Dan Rae, is back at the computer this morning to address a topic that affects almost everyone in the world at some point in their life.  I am talking about Tension Headaches also know as Stress Headaches.  This is an issue that I see every single day in my office, and I hope to provide some insight in how to treat Tension Headaches as well as prevent them all together.

Tension Headaches are the most common of all headaches.  They account for approximately 75% of all headaches.  The majority of individuals describe a Tension Headache as a constant dull ache that is felt on either one side or both sides of the head, which is often said to be a feeling of a tight band or dull ache around the head or behind the eyes.  Tension Headaches usually begin slowly and can last for minutes or even days, and they generally begin in the middle or toward the end of the day.  In a limited number of cases, chronic Tension Headaches may persist for many months.  Although the pain, at times, can be quite severe, Tension Headaches are usually not associated with other symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting.

Tension Headaches are often the result of stress or bad posture, which stresses the spine and muscles in the upper back and neck.  We tend to see Tension Headaches in individuals that sit at their computer all day long and develop rounded shoulders, hunched back, and a forward carriage of the head.

The most common cause of Tension Headaches is fixation in the neck and upper back, mostly in the the upper neck, which leads to active trigger points as well.  When the top cervical vertebrae become fixated and lose their normal motion or position for whatever reason a small muscle at the base of the skull called the rectus capitis posterior minor (RCPM) muscle goes into spasm.  Most muscles have an origin on a bone and they have an insertion point on another bone, but this small muscle has a tendon which slips between the upper neck and the base of the skull and attaches to a thin pain-sensitive tissue called the dura mater that covers and protects the brain.  The brain itself has no feeling, the dura mater is very pain-sensitive.  Therefore, when the RCPM muscle goes into spasm and its tendon begins to pull on the dura mater, a headache occurs.

Treatment for a Tension Headache is quite simple, but it requires a concerted effort on the part of the patient.  Chiropractic manipulative techniques are utilized to mobilize the fixated cervical and thoracic vertebrae , and soft-tissue therapies such as Active Release Technique (ART) and Graston Technique are utilized reduce the spasm in the RCPM and surrounding musculature.  The concerted effort on the patients part comes with correcting posture.  I actually try to make at as easy as possible for my patients by providing them with a Posture Shirt that will provide them with cues every time they slip into bad posture.  By providing this cue the patient is reminded to correct their posture.  We have seen fantastic results in our Tension Headache sufferers using this treatment.