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The Cause of Headache and Migraine















The myths

Scientists and medical practitioners have spent many years trying to find the cause of Headache and Migraine.

"The muscles in my head are tight when I have a headache"  WRONG

And this was proven incorrect way back in 1977!  There is no increased tension to the muscles of the scalp during a tension type Headache. However, there is significant increase in the tension of the upper cervical spine muscles during a tension type Headache.

"My blood vessels have dilated - that's why my head throbs during a migraine" NOPE NOT REALLY

Some studies show that some people actually experience constriction of the blood vessels during a Migraine. Other studies indicate that the amount of dilation is not large enough to elicit the pain associated with Migraine and that the dilation is a pain response and not the cause of pain.


So what is causing it? The big question!


As technology has improved and theories have been tested, the underlying cause has become clear. The common feature in ALL Headache and Migraine patients is a sensitised Trigemino-Cervical Nucleus (TCN), or lower brainstem.


How does it become sensitised?

There are 4 potential sources that may cause sensitisation of the lower brainstem:

  • Insufficient amounts of Serotonin in the body (there are no clinical tests that can confirm this)
  • Abnormal information coming from a disorder within the head (e.g. tumours, infection, aneurysms) These are often ruled out by MRI or CT scans.
  • The diffuse noxious inhibitory control system has an inhibitory effect on the brainstem. It is the system that kicks in when there is pain felt in another area of the body (e.g. like when you hit your thumb with a hammer and suddenly your headache isn't so bad). There is no way to assess the efficiency of this system.
  • Noxious information coming from a disorder in the upper cervical spine (the top of your neck)

This makes the neck a pretty obvious culprit, especially if imaging of the brain has shown no abnormalities!


So how does the neck sensitise the lower brainstem?

It all starts with a dysfunction in the top 3 segments of your upper cervical spine 

The dysfunction causes noxious information to constantly enter the brainstem.  

The lower brainstem becomes sensitised by this noxious information.  

When the lower brainstem is sensitised it is hyper-reactive and your tolerance for normal daily events is reduced. This includes your tolerance for stress, tiredness, dehydration, chocolate, cheese, wine, hormones etc. So, instead of dealing with these events, your brainstem is firing off and reacting - giving you a headache or migraine. 


Post concussion syndrome

The average concussion involves 90g of force to the head and it only takes 4g to disrupt the equilibrium in the upper cervical spine. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to have a concussion injury and there not be some injury to the upper cervical spine.

As with Migraine sufferers, the research shows that those who suffer from Post Concussion Syndrome have a sensitised brainstem.

Post concussion symptoms are very similar to those of Migraine - Headache, Dizziness/Vertigo, Nausea, Brain fog, Insomnia - and our experience is that they respond extremely well to the treatment we offer.

We have provided services to a number of elite athletes and since 2017 we have been providing treatment for Post Concussion injuries to The Southland Stags Mitre 10 Cup team.




If you need to book an appointment, simply give us a call on 0508 HEADACHE (0508 432 322) toll-free or fill out the form on our contact page and we'll be in touch.


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Want to improve your quality of life? The Headache Clinic can help you take control of your Headache & Migraine