Chiropractic and Tension Headaches

By Dr. Jessica Eliason

People have long sought chiropractic care for tension headaches, but do you know why it helps?

At the back of your head, there are a myriad of different muscles used to hold your head up all day, every day. These muscles are called the subocciputal muscles. “Subocciputal” means “below the skull”, and they do a lot of work for how small they are! The human head is approximately 12 pounds, which, when in proper position, is perfectly manageable for your spine and neck muscles.

When alignment goes awry, however, you neck muscles may be doing five time as much work! Sometimes, especially when you’re feeling stressed, you can get a headache that feels like it tugs at the back of your head. That tugging is your poor subocciputal muscles being overworked. Because these muscles attach to the back of the head where there is a lot of connective tissue, some people even feel pain all the way around into one or both of their eyes! This is a common referral pattern for tension headaches.

If your neck isn’t properly aligned, your body, specifically these subocciputal muscles, has to work a lot harder to protect your spine and other sensitive structures, which leads to pain, tightness and headaches. A 2001 study in the Journal of Manipulative Physical Therapy found that cervical spine adjustments were as effective as amitriptyline (a commonly prescribed prescription medication for headaches) in the treatment of chronic tension headaches(1). Regular chiropractic adjustments can help keep your neck moving the way it should, and help keep those tiny supportive muscles strong and healthy.

This makes for a happier, headache-free You!


1. Bronfort G, Assendelft WJ, Evans R, Haas M, Bouter L. “Efficacy of spinal manipulation for chronic headache: a systematic review.” J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2001 Sep;24(7):457-66. Retrieved from <>.