Muscoskeletal And Tension Headaches Causes And Cures


Hi. This is Dr. Craig Tuttle. Today’s subject is headaches. Two of the most common types of headaches are musculoskeletal headaches, which are also referred to as tension headaches. And also, there are migraine headaches which is a second type of headache not as common as the tension headaches. But yet, popular and very common in our population, needless to say.

So commonly in our practice, we see lots of people with headaches. When people get headaches usually, most 99 percent of the time, musculoskeletal or tension headaches are caused by stress on the nerves at the base of the neck where the skull meets the very base of the neck. And, those types of headaches, as I said, are called tension type headaches.

The weight of our head, which is between 10 and 16 pounds, sits upon the neck and the neck is held to that head by muscles and ligaments. When the muscles and ligaments get tight or taut or tense, this occurs from stress.

There are three types of stress that we incur in our lives that will cause this to occur. The first type of stress is emotional stress. This has to do with day to day stress in your life, such as relationships, job stress, financial stress, if you’re a Mariners fan and they’re not doing well. Those are all examples of emotional stresses that can occur and tense you up.

The second type of stress is physical stress. Let’s say you’re in a job sitting at a computer or you drive a vehicle for a living. In that constant position, when your head’s flexed forward in what they call a forward head posture position, when the head goes in front of the shoulders, this pulls and causes the muscles and ligaments at the base of the skull to tighten up.

There’s also another type of physical stress, such as trauma. When you get in car accidents or sports injuries, slip and fall, those are all kinds of stresses that will tighten the muscles and ligaments up at the base of the skull, too.

The third type of stress is chemical stress. Chemical stress could be from smoking cigarettes, drinking too much coffee, having an imbalanced diet, being on medication, or taking drugs into your system. Typically, anything that you put from the outside into your body that’s not designed to be there will put stress on the nerves at the base of the neck, including prescription drugs. Those are all chemical stresses that can cause the muscles and ligaments to tighten up.

In summary, the type of tension that will cause the muscles and ligaments to tighten up in your skull is caused by stress. The three types of stress are: chemical stress, emotional stress, and physical stress.

Now, let’s move on to some things that a chiropractor would do to help relieve that stress. Usually the top two bones in the neck are referred to as the Atlas and Axis. Those top two bones, when they’re moving freely, and the muscles and ligaments around them are flexible and supple, they will allow the nerves and blood vessels to flow up into the head and function properly.

However, if those muscles and ligaments tighten up and cause those bones to not move freely, they’re stuck. In chiropractic, we refer to that as a subluxated vertebrae, or a stuck vertebrae, if you will; or you may have heard the term pinched nerve. This is basically the muscles and ligaments tightening up causing the bones to not move freely, putting pressure on the nerves up into the head.

Thus, you get the symptoms of a headache, a musculoskeletal headache, or a migraine type headache. And, in chiropractic, a chiropractor would use manipulation or movement of those bones to unlock them. It’s a very gentle procedure, we do it with newborn babies, and we do it with people of every age category to take the pressure off those nerves.

Many people would get tremendous relief, on a daily basis, throughout the United States by getting that pressure taken off those nerves. This will allow them to function properly and in a state of balance referred to as homeostasis.

The muscles we mentioned at the base of the skull are called occipital muscles. These are very important muscles that hold the weight of the head against the very top part of the neck. Those muscles need to be flexible and loose, not taut and tight.

As a chiropractor, I move those bones to get them unstuck. Some things you can do at home that will help relieve the symptoms of the problem but not necessarily fix the problem, would be to put moist heat at the base of the neck, allowing circulation to soften those muscles and to allow better function of the muscle.

In addition, massaging sideways against the fibers will also help. Fibers typically run vertically, which means they run from the base of the skull, down the neck, to attach to the vertebrae. So, you want to take your thumb or fingertips and rub sideways or against the grain of the muscle fibers, typically in a horizontal pattern. So you’ll cross those fibers to loosen up the muscles and ligaments in there. And you can press as firmly as you feel comfortable.

Some people like a lot of pressure. Some people like really light pressure depending on, obviously, the degree of the headache. This will help relieve some of the symptoms of the headache.

You can do that yourself or if you have a partner, maybe a spouse or significant other, they can help relieve some of the tension of those headaches. Commonly, a lot of my patients that have had headaches in the past, after I’ve shown them this technique, and they were way out of town, were able to
either do it themselves or have a significant other to help relieve those pressures.

We also recommend massage. Massage helps relieve the muscular components of those headaches but may not necessarily unlock the vertebrae which requires the adjustments or the movement by the chiropractor to fix the problem.

So, if you suffer from headaches, we highly encourage you to get to a qualified chiropractor in your area that will help you with those conditions, or help you relieve the symptoms of the headache condition. But also, more importantly, restore function back into the movement pattern of those Axis and Atlas vertebrae.

If you’re in the Seattle area, we’d love to help you! We offer a complimentary examination. You can get that on our website. It’s available. We do the examination free for people that would like to come in and have an evaluation done at our office. That’s right here in Seattle at 1205 Second Avenue. We’re glad to
help out! This is what we’re passionate about and that’s what we’re here for.

Thank you for your time today. This is Dr. Craig Tuttle.