Physiology of Headaches by Dr. Beachy

The Anatomy and Physiology of Headaches

Headaches are one of the most common ailments that plagues people of all ages. Researchers estimate that 9 out of 10 Americans experience headaches at some point. Furthermore, in the last 12 months 95% of women and 90% of men have had at least one headache. For about 45 million of us Americans, those headaches are considered chronic.


How one experiences the frequency, severity, and duration of headache symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. They range from being intermittent or occasional to near constant and from dull and mild to throbbing and sharp. Some even get so severe they cause nausea and become truly debilitating, preventing the sufferer from working and even enjoying simple day-to-day activities many of us take for granted.

Headaches can occur for different reasons. They are divided into two different categories, depending on their cause. Primary headaches (the most common) are headaches that arise on their own and not caused by some external factor or condition. Secondary headaches occur as a result of some other health condition. As chiropractors, we most commonly deal with three different types of headaches in our patients:

  • Tension headaches are primary headaches that are triggered by muscles pulling in the head, neck and shoulder and/or a misalignment of one of the bones in the neck. They are often triggered by stress. Misaligned bones in the neck in conjunction with muscular contractions can themselves become the source of tension and stress throughout the body that eventually causes a headache. In today’s society, many people engage in more sedentary lifestyles than they used to, and more and more hours are spent in one fixed position or posture (sound familiar?). This can increase joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back and scalp, ultimately causing your head to ache. 
  • Migraine headaches are also in the primary headache category. They are often referred to as vascular headaches, due to the fact they occur when blood vessels in the head suddenly dilate or expand. Research into the cause of migraines is ongoing, but we know that the nervous system and genetic factors are also leading contributors. People who experience migraines report wide array of triggers and associated symptoms.  
  • Cervicogenic headaches are in the secondary headache category, because they are produced when pain begins in the neck or back of the head and is referred to the forehead or the area behind, in and around the eyes. Some common triggers of secondary headache are trauma, chronic tension and disease. Trigger points in the neck, shoulder blade and spine are also sources of cervicogenic headaches, though they can be more difficult to identify. 

Over the years, many over the counter and prescription medications have been developed to relieve the symptoms of headaches and migraines. However, they typically do very little to address the underlying cause of the problem. Furthermore, many of these medications have unwanted side effects, especially is they’re used often and/or over a prolonged period of time or in combination with other medications. Because of this, many people are beginning to seek out “alternative” approaches to managing headaches, rather than reaching for that bottle of pills in the medicine cabinet. 


Chiropractic has been shown to be effective in preventing or reducing the frequency and severity of both primary and secondary headaches in a large and growing body of medical research. One study performed by the New Zealand government showed that the majority of people suffering from recurring headaches from spinal misalignment found that their headaches were relieved by chiropractic adjustments, and many were found to still be without pain in the two-year follow up. Another study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that spinal adjustments are more effective and longer-lasting for treating tension headaches than the use of commonly prescribed pain meds. 

At Hurley Chiropractic, our doctors perform a thorough examination to identify the cause of your headache pain. Depending on your health history and specific circumstances, we may recommend chiropractic adjustments to improve function in the spine, relieve muscle tension, reduce nerve irritation and improve vascular flow. We may also recommend other therapies, like massage or therapeutic stretches and exercises, as a part of our treatment plan to give you the best results in reducing symptoms and achieving your goals. Other recommendations we make might include lifestyle advice on posture, diet, exercise, sleep and stress management techniques (see our last blog post!).


If you or someone you care about suffers from recurring migraines or headaches, we encourage you to make an appointment with us ASAP so we can start getting to the root of the problem and help you live headache free!


The Atlas Subluxation by Dr. Hurley

Hey everyone, it’s Dr. Emily Hurley! I love to help people with headaches and migraines. I decided to specialize in migraines and headaches because as a migraine sufferer, I personally know how debilitating they can be. I wouldn’t be able to function without chiropractic to manage my migraines.


Oftentimes, my new patients come in reporting complaints of back pain. When I ask if they have headaches they respond “Oh occasionally” or “Just the normal amount”. Just to let you know- the normal amount of headaches is zero! When I ask how many headaches they consider to be “occasional headaches” my patients will sometimes describe up to 2-3 headaches per week! Headaches are not normal and are a sign that there is something going on! I help get to the root cause of the migraines and headaches. Oftentimes my chronic migraine patients know that they have triggers or patterns, such as the weather, stress, dehydration, certain foods, or right before and during their menstrual cycle. While these can all be factors in headaches or migraines, there is one common factor I find in all of my headache and migraine patients:

The Atlas Subluxation!

The Atlas is another name for our C1 vertebrae, that little bone that sits at the very top of our neck and supports our head. That’s why its name is Atlas, that little guy is carrying the weight of the world! The Atlas is the main culprit in nearly all of my headache and migraine patients. That little bone can get shifted out of alignment, which we call a subluxation. An Atlas adjustment is powerful and almost always gives a level of immediate relief. The Atlas Adjustment is a powerful neurologic reset. It’s a way to send a flood of information to the brain and is like rebooting a computer. It helps relieve pressure from those nerves going up into the head.

In the case of migraines (classified here as a one sided headache with pain behind the eye, accompanied by light sensitivity and usually nausea or vomiting), I have a few more factors to consider. My migraine protocol also includes cranial work. There is a bone in the center of our skull called the Sphenoid. The sphenoid will often follow the Atlas. If the Atlas shifts over, the Sphenoid can shift too. This puts pressure behind the eye. The one eye can appear bigger and it can cause pain behind the eye. Balancing the skull through cranial adjustments can give wonderful relief to migraine sufferers.

The third consideration is the balancing of the autonomic nervous system. Migraine sufferers that have light sensitivity, sound sensitivity, nausea and vomiting are stuck in their “Fight or Flight” side of their nervous system. Adjusting the spine, particularly the mid-back and upper back, can reset the Fight or Flight portion of the nervous system and help to calm the system. Think about it, if you are in Fight or Flight your body is on high alert. Your pupils dilate to be able to see the threat more clearly, your brain focuses on your hearing being more acute, your digestion slows down because you need all your energy preparing to run or fight the threat. This can be a factor in these symptoms of migraines.

Watch my video to hear about one of my greatest migraine success stories!



A well-balanced family!

Here at Hurley Chiropractic and Wellness Center we take care of the whole family! Our patients start as young as a few days after birth and we continue care for as long as they need! As children grow and go to school, participate in sports and are active throughout their adolescent life maintenance adjustments help keep their nervous system balanced, therapies and rehabilitative stretching help with muscles as well as massages! As adults we are not caring for ourselves but also our little humans so we need to make self care a priority to stay balanced and to help reduce stress on the regular! 

Dr. Culpepper talks about Adjustments!


What is an adjustment, specifically, what is a chiropractic adjustment.

A chiropractic adjustment is the foundation of chiropractic care here at Hurley Chiropractic.

A chiropractic adjustment is a treatment method that focuses on restoring the proper motion or position of the spinal bones or joints of the spine. Chiropractic adjustments can also be used on joints in the upper or lower extremities (arms and legs), if there are areas that can benefit.

Areas of the spine or extremities that have abnormal, restricted movement, or malposition or both are commonly called subluxations. Other terms that are often used are misalignment’s and/or restrictions. Referring to restricted motion.

These areas of abnormal motion or restriction are found on our initial examination of each patient. For new patients we begin our care with a complete review of each patient’s history of condition. This helps rule out the possibility of any underlying medical conditions that may need additional investigation or referral.

Once we have completed the patient’s history of condition and performed the proper physical, neurological and orthopedic exams and we have identified the regions that are contributing to the patients symptoms, we then may perform imaging to look at the area on x rays to evaluate for abnormalities or pathology. After the x rays are reviewed with each patient we often can see misalignments and/or areas that show abnormal degenerative changes.

Once the proper diagnosis is determined, each chiropractor in the clinic will determine which chiropractic adjustment technique may be best suited in each patient’s treatment plan.

There are numerous types and various techniques of chiropractic adjustments. Most techniques involve a hands on approach where some techniques use hand held instruments to perform the adjustments.

Each of the various techniques utilized by each chiropractor should always be described in detail to each patient before the first adjustment. It is common to use various adjustment techniques and an experienced chiropractor will likely use a combination of techniques to find the best result for each patient and for the various conditions they present with.  The primary goal of the chiropractic adjustment is to restore proper motion and /or alignment to achieve the desired improvement of the patient’s condition by improving the function of the nervous system. 

To learn more about how chiropractic adjustments can help you, contact Hurley Chiropractic today to schedule your appointment.