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Migraine Triggers

Woman suffering from a migraine headache
Can Chiropractic Cure My Headache?


Rather than being a cure, chiropractic treats the underlying causes of headaches. Chiropractic treatment may be able to make headaches more manageable by:

  1. reducing the severity of headache pain

  2. increasing the amount of time in between headaches

The types of headaches that chiropractors are most likely to help are those related to nerve pressure, skeletal misalignments, structural asymmetry, joint inflammation, muscle spasms, or restricted movement in the neck. Chiropractic can also help with sinus headaches by allowing the sinuses to drain more efficiently.

30 Possible Migraine and Headache Triggers


If you were to take a survey of most people over the age of 21, you would find that the majority of people have experienced at least a couple bad migraines or other forms of headaches during the course of their lives. Headaches are often due to work related stress, tension over trying to meet certain deadlines, and anxiety over final exams at the university. Headaches can sneak up on us, making our lives difficult at the most inconvenient times. There are actually a number of factors and situations which may cause a headache. While each person is different, it is very important to understand what sorts of things are most apt to trigger a migraine so that we can take steps to prevent headache pain.

  • Schedule changes – Do you ever get a headache over the weekend or smack dab in the middle of your vacation? When your body changes from its normal daily schedule, your internal biological routine (sometimes called a circadian rhythm) is affected, resulting in a number of physiological changes (including brain waves, heart rate and hormone fluctuations) that can trigger a headache.

  • Poor posture – When you sit and stand using correct posture, your body expends very little energy to keep your skeleton upright against gravity because it relies upon a special set of muscles, known as “postural muscles” to do their assigned task. However when your shoulders are slouched, your head and neck is angled too far forward, or one shoulder is higher than the other, your body’s postural muscles are no longer able to do their job correctly. As a consequence of this your body is forced to recruit extra muscles to try to stabilize the skeleton. This can result in muscle tension and muscle spasms in the head, neck, shoulders, and between the shoulder blades, which may eventually lead to tension headaches which in turn can trigger a migraine.

  • Nuts – Eating peanuts, almonds, cashews, and other nuts are known to trigger migraines in some people. Although these foods are normally very healthy, some people are hypersensitive to them.

  • Changes of season – Certain seasonal changes tend to trigger headaches in some people. This is especially true of people suffering from sinus headaches, and cluster headaches.

  • Strong odors – Beware of overpowering scents caused by household cleaners (such as ammonia), strong perfumes, laundry detergents, air fresheners, chemical fumes, and nail polish removers. Pungent smells activate nerve pathways in the nose and may trigger migraines.

  • Hormone fluctuations – Hormonal changes are known to trigger migraines and headaches that involve the occipital nerve. The hormones involved are usually estrogen and progesterone. Women are more prone to be affected by these changes which may cause inflammation in the body at certain times of the month, during pregnancy, or throughout menopause.

  • Hunger - Skipping meals and changes in blood sugar can cause headaches, irritability, and lack of concentration.

  • Sleep – Too much sleep or too little sleep (or basically any change in your overall sleep pattern), can trigger tension headaches, migraines, and occipital headaches.

  • Jaw clenching and teeth grinding – Grinding your teeth at night or clenching your jaw during the day can irritate the masseter and temporalis muscles on the sides of your head and jaw, which can result in a headache.

  • Temperature fluctuations – Changes in temperature (usually warm weather) can trigger migraines. Temperature changes affect the physiology of the brain, blood vessels, nerves and muscles.

  • Loud noises – Loud music, babies crying, traffic sounds, dogs barking, and the clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen – all of these can over stimulate the auditory nerves and trigger migraines.

  • Smoking – Yet one more reason to avoid smoking: people who smoke or who are around others who smoke can get migraines and severely painful cluster headaches. Exposure to tobacco smoke irritates the sinuses and nasal passages. It also elevates blood pressure and harms the airways. Tobacco smoke contains over 250 chemicals that are known to be toxic to living creatures. One quarter of these chemicals are carcinogenic (cancer causing). If you get headaches after smoking it is probably a reminder from your body telling you to quit before more harm is caused to your organs and internal tissues.

  • Stress – Emotional stress is a huge trigger of migraines and tension headaches. Anxiety, situational stress, and chronic stress can cause you to clench your jaw, furrow your eyebrows, square your shoulders, and tighten your neck and upper back muscles. When your body enters into fight-or-flight mode, your entire physiology is affected. Your blood pressure rises, your heart and respiration rate increases, and postural muscles can spasm.

  • Changes in weather patterns – Shifts in weather patterns cause changes in barometric pressure. This will in turn cause extra pressure and pain in any areas in the body that already are swollen and inflamed. Storms and weather changes are known to negatively affect two areas: the joints (people with arthritis and joint inflammation) and sinuses (people who have inflamed sinuses). Increased sinus inflammation can lead to a sinus headache which in turn can trigger a migraine.

  • Chocolate – While some people use small amounts of chocolate to combat their headaches, for other people chocolate can actually trigger a headache. Avoid chocolate if you are hypersensitive to it.

  • SCUBA diving – Scuba diving can cause various types of headaches. Some examples of diving headaches are external ear squeeze, middle ear squeeze, sinus squeeze, facemask squeeze, and headaches from sensitivities to diesel fumes from boats.

  • Sex – Men who are prone to migraines are more apt to suffer from headaches after any sexual activity. Inform your doctor if you are experiencing this type of headache because it can sometimes be related to stroke, coronary artery disease, glaucoma, aneurysm, and other serious health conditions.

  • Frustration and anger – When you become upset, your body enters fight-or-flight mode. This causes your muscles to tighten, your pupils to dilate, your heart rate to increase, and your food to be improperly digested. Anger can cause stress on your body which may result in a headache.

  • Dehydration – Your body requires a certain amount of water daily in order to function efficiently. Dehydration changes blood pressure and overall blood composition which can cause headaches.

  • Eye strain – If your eyes get tired after driving for hours, or from staring all day at a computer screen, you may wind up with a tension headache or migraine. This is because you have strained the tiny muscles around your eyes, forehead, and face.

  • Tyramine – This substance is a derivative of the amino acid Tyrosine. It is a chemical sometimes found in aged cheeses such as blue cheese, Swiss, cheddar, brie, and parmesan. Some people are sensitive to this chemical and develop headaches after exposure to it.

  • Alcohol – Did you know that people rarely get migraines after drinking clear and light colored hard liquors? Yet sometimes the smallest quantities of red wine or amber colored liquors (i.e. tequila or rum) can trigger horrible migraines. If alcohol triggers your migraines, try to determine which types or brands of alcohol are involved. Some people do better if they avoid alcohol altogether.

  • Nitrates – Ever get a headache after eating a hot dog or pepperoni pizza? Headaches can be caused by chemicals known as nitrates, which are found in processed bacon, cold cuts, and other deli meats).

  • Aspartame – Aspartame is an example of an artificial sweetener that is a known migraine trigger.

  • Light and glare – Strong sunlight, bright light, reflected light, and glare off of objects (such as a metal surface or computer screen), can cause migraines. Individuals who suffer from chronic migraines are sometimes extremely sensitive to light.

  • MSG – Monosodium glutamate is a chemical food additive intended to enhance the flavor of certain foods. MSG is a known migraine trigger found most often in processed meats and Chinese food. If you are sensitive to MSG, locate Chinese restaurants that do not use this chemical in food preparation.

  • Exercise – Physical exertion can trigger migraines in some people. If exercise triggers your headaches, it is important to attempt different types of physical activities in order to find a form of exercise that is beneficial, yet does not cause headaches. Inform your doctor if you have exercise-related headaches because they are sometimes linked to heart disease.

  • Objects worn on your head – Use discretion when wearing sunglasses, earmuffs, hair accessories, headsets, head bands, safety goggles, scuba masks, visors, and snug fitting hats, especially if you are prone to headaches.

  • Caffeine – Caffeine sensitivity has been known to cause migraines in certain individuals. Also, if you are an avid coffee drinker, skipping your morning cup of Joe can trigger a headache as well. People who wish to decrease their daily amount of caffeine should do so gradually in order to decrease the likelihood of headaches.

  • Medications – Both prescribed and over-the-counter medications can cause headaches. Even if headaches are not listed as a side-effect, if you personally are sensitive to a certain type of medication, you may wind up with a headache. Misuse of pharmaceuticals can also be responsible for rebound headaches. Inform your doctor if you believe your medication is triggering headaches.

Some people who experience chronic headaches find it useful to keep a headache diary that describes their headaches and lists the type of pain (throbbing, sharp, squeezing, aching etc.), what foods you ate, how much water you drank, how many hours you slept, how long the headache lasted, and what events were happening in your life. This helps you determine possible causes so you can pinpoint what might have triggered each headache.

Alternative treatments and therapies such as chiropractic, massage therapy, acupuncture, and acupressure can help a high percentage of people who suffer from migraines, tension headaches, and other types of headaches.

Seek medical attention if your headache gets progressively worse, if you experience breathing problems or chest pain, if you have severe vomiting, if your vision changes, if your speech slurs, if you have a seizure, if you get a rash, if you get numbness with your headache, if you have confusion or memory changes, or if your headache happens after a fall, accident, or injury. Also seek medical attention if you get a sudden, excruciating headache that is extremely severe and worse than any headache you’ve ever had.

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