photo by Petr Kratochvil (click image for more)

Many of my headache patients come to see me and describe their intense headaches as “migraines.” This self diagnosis is purely based on the high level of discomfort they are experiencing.

Fortunately, most headaches are not migraines, even the very intense ones. And knowing what type of headache you have is crucial in determining what course of action will cure you.

According to the American Headache Society, over 78% of people will suffer tension type headaches during their lifetime. A much smaller percentage will ever have a true migraine. Therefore, if you have intense headaches, instead of self diagnosing yourself, go see your chiropractor or family doctor for a professional opinion. Having treated headache patients for over 10 years and having taught a headache class at the University of Victoria, I am well aware of sufferers and their tendency towards self-diagnosis. If the self diagnosis is wrong it can stop them from getting to the pain free stages they so desire because they are doing the wrong things.

This post is not meant to replace diagnosis by a professional, but to help you see that you may have wrongly self diagnosed and therefore are on the wrong track.


image778If you were to drill a hole through each of your cheek bones (front to back) within about 2 inches you would hit a bundle of nerves known as the trigeminal ganglion. This is a squid-like branch of nerves that connect to the eyes, forehead, scalp, face, jaw and temple region and then relays them all back to the spinal chord. In the spinal chord the trigeminal nerves connect to the neck nerves via an area called the trigemino-cervical nucleus. The trigeminal ganglion is involved in both migraines and tension type headaches but only tension type headaches affect the trigemino-cervical nerves. The following information will teach you some basics to differentiate migraines from tension headaches.

Because the trigeminal nerves interact with blood vessels the foods we eat can trigger migraine headaches. Migraines are therefore different from tension type headaches because they can be triggered by wine, cheese, chocolate or caffeine. Migraines also don’t involve the neck or back of the head and are usually around the temple and eye area on one side only. The pain is typically a throbbing or pulsing sensation.

photo by Petr Kratochvil (click image for more)

photo by Petr Kratochvil (click image for more)

Migraines typically occur only a couple of times per month and last minutes to hours but generally not days. Further, if just before you feel the headache you have visual disturbances or light and sound hypersensitivity, this points towards migraines. The typical migraine patient has migraines in their family history and has had migraines since adolescence. Typically, migraines do not respond much to ibuprofen, tylenol or aspirin. Women are more prone then men to migraines. See your chiropractor to determine if you are indeed suffering from migraines and receive the appropriate nutritional advice and treatments.

The tension type headache patient usually has neck pain before their headaches. Classic tension headaches affect the rim of your scalp like a sweat band (i.e.: forehead, sides of the head and back of the head) and both sides are affected equally. Unlike migraines, tension headaches can last more than an hour and can even be constant for 2 or more days. Tylenol, ibuprofen and aspirin generally are quite helpful at reducing tension headaches. Tension headaches typically manifest several times per week and feel like constant pressure or pain — they do not pulse like migraines. No pre-headache visual or hearing issues occur with tension headaches.

Tension type headaches involve the cervical nerves and migraines do not. This is why neck injury from muscle or joint trauma or prolonged bad posture is usually the sole cause of tension headaches. They affect the neck nerves which communicate with the trigeminal ganglion which in turn sends nerves to the scalp and face, therefore causing the head pain associated with headaches. Sometimes tension type headaches are more severe than even true migraines, leading the sufferer to re-label it a “migraine.”

Because the neck causes all or most of the head and face symptoms for tension type headaches, treating the muscles and joints of the neck is usually the solution to years of suffering. People don’t know their neck is causing their debilitating headaches. At our clinic we’ve developed a series of treatments that are very effective at dealing with tension headaches.

Even long term, well entrenched tension type headaches can be cured. Our clinic also has designed a 10 week exercise rehabilitation and manual therapy program to solve even the longest term headaches. As an example, one of our headache patients let us do a documentary on her full recovery after 13 years of debilitating headaches. Please take the time to watch:



Some patients have symptoms of both tension headaches and migraines. Sometimes, these patients receive treatment for their tension headaches and their migraines disappear. This is because both types of headaches affect the trigeminal ganglion. Therefore, in some patients, tension headaches trigger the migraines. So if you remove the tension headache, you remove the migraine by default.

To recap the difference between tension headaches and migraines, see the diagram below for an easy comparison: 

tension vs migrain sxs

Please do not use this post as substitute for professional diagnosis. There are many other types of headaches such as cluster headaches, temporal arteritis, toxic headaches and others that mimic certain aspects of migraines and tension headaches. A clinician such as your chiropractor or family doctor will be able to differentiate from these and give you a sure diagnosis.



photo by Vera Kratochvil (click image to see more)

Most people feel like they are drowning when trying to maintain a long term fitness plan. This is completely unnecessary. Thankfully, by following one simple rule, anyone can successfully start AND FINISH a year long fitness regimen.

In this post we show you exactly what to do and what NOT to do in order to achieve your goal.

The really good news is that it is very simple and easy to follow, the bad news is, it won’t produce the overnight results you desire. It will take some time. BUT if you have a little patience you will get what you have wanted your whole life: a transformed body and 100% consistency in the gym.

Beginners and those who’ve traditionally found it very difficult to make a commitment to consistent training without constantly catching colds, burning out or running out of time and energy, have all done so for the exact same reason: THEY TRAIN TOO MUCH. 

Training puts a strain on your muscles, nervous system, immune system and psyche. ALL of these systems need to be allowed to adapt slowly if you are to begin and successfully continue a fitness regimen for years to come.all your systems

Come January of each new year, the gym population doubles with people on New Year’s resolutions. These poor souls strain themselves 5 days a week at maximum intensity to pay for their Christmas indulgence and for last year’s sedentary lifestyle.

photo by Vera Kratochvil (click here for more)

photo by Vera Kratochvil (click image for more)

Within 6 weeks these people are gone only to show up a month or two later to begin the on-again, off-again cycle which will eventually lead them to quit altogether.

Quite simply, these people force their bodies — which have been inactive for some time — to do something they absolutely cannot do. They are defeated before they even begin. Either their psychology gives up or their immune system or they get injured. And all their efforts are wasted because they have not transformed their bodies. You cannot make up for lost time by simply going “nuclear” on your gym intensity.


The easy-does-it program slowly increases your training frequency over a period of 8 and a half months. Yes, you read that right. 3 quarters of one calendar year. Along with good nutrition and proper hydration and sleep, it is the only way to allow all 4 systems to adapt to the permanent increase in physical activity without getting behind in recovery and therefore causing pain, fatigue, constant illness or mental burn out.

Here’s how to apply it (CLICK TO ENLARGE):

The key to success is PATIENCE!! This approach takes nearly 9 months to get you to the “PERMANENT CYCLE” listed at the bottom of the above figure. Throughout the entire program, make sure to be tuned into your body. If you feel you’re getting sick, take one or more days off (if not the whole week). The key is to respect your body and its already busy lifestyle and to slowly allow all your systems to adapt to a consistently more physically demanding lifestyle.

We strongly recommend you hire a trainer to show you routines appropriate for your desired intensity levels (i.e.: mild, moderate and severe). Once you reach the permanent frequency cycle, continue to adjust your intensity from mild, moderate and severe as your body will not be the same on any given week (or even day). Especially make sure that you still throw in plenty of mild workouts into the mix during the weeks in which you’re training 5 times. Never train at maximum intensity more than 3 times per week. Ever.

photo by George Hodan (click image for more)

photo by George Hodan (click image for more)

Further, mix up your training = inside the gym, outside the gym, swimming, cycling, running, power walking, therabands, machines, dumbbells, kettle bells, etc. The more variety the better.

This approach is modeled after the fact that a body responds to frequency NOT intensity. Otherwise put, if during the year you were to train at high intensity for 8 weeks, burn out, and then take 4 weeks off to recover (typical overtrain + don’t train cycle of burnouts), you’d get 35 weeks of intense training AND a full 17 weeks off. This may not seem horribly bad, but because the intensity was too high, your body would actually resist the workouts in hopes of preserving its vital functions and staying healthy. Much of the effort would be too much for the body and it would under-react to training by minimizing fat loss and muscle-gain.

loose jeans

photo by Petr Kratochvil (click image for more)

Plus, due to the multiple weeks off, the body reacts by “weathering the storm” of the 8 weeks of workouts. Which means that even with all that sweat n’ blood, the body refuses to really get toned up because the workouts are not consistent and followed by huge down time. And the body, above all else, listens for consistency not intensity. And when you take more than 2 full weeks off in a row, the body is undoing all the hard work of the 8 weeks of training. This is a very frustrating lose – lose scenario that keeps millions of people from permanently staying on a fitness cycle and get the result they so desperately want.

These 4 weeks on + 1 week off cycles allow your systems (i.e.: muscular, nervous, immune, psychological) to recover should one or more of them be getting behind.

Eat right, drink plenty of water, buy a new mattress (if you have to) and train your body in slowly increasing frequency and intensity. By next year you won’t recognize yourself in the mirror.