How Contact Sports Lead to Headaches: Nerve Pressure from Repetitive Impacts

We’ve all heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is especially true when it comes to headaches. Many people think that headaches are just a part of life, and that there’s nothing you can do about them. But this isn’t the case! There are many different types of headaches, as well as many different causes and treatment options. In this article, we will be discussing why athletes, specifically, deal with recurring or chronic headaches, the best solution for them, and how to prevent them from returning. What’s the most common cause for these athlete’s headaches? Nerve pressure from repetitive impacts.

Contact sports, such as football or hockey, put a lot of stress on the body and can lead to major injuries like concussions and whiplash. Most of us understand how a concussion or other traumatic brain injuries can cause headaches. The brain tissue itself gets damaged which leads to swelling and hypersensitivity. Similarly, smaller impacts can lead to the same symptoms. Let’s use this football example. Think about two opposing linemen colliding 60-70 times per game, over the course of a whole season, over the course of their athletic career. These smaller impacts add up over time to create a much bigger problem.

How do these impacts cause nerve pressure?

Whether it’s a big hit or small repetitive blows, these athletic impacts can cause a multitude of problems. Not only can it cause mild to severe brain injury, but it almost always causes damage to the cervical spine (neck). When vertebrae in the neck shift or misalign, they can put pressure on nerves and lead to headaches. As mentioned previously, there are many different types of headaches with varying symptomatology. This is because there are many different nerves that can be affected. Each one causing different issues. The misalignment could be as simple as causing tightness and pain in the back of the head. It could be in the upper cervical spine causing a lack of blood flow to the brain. Or it could be in the lower cervical spine causing an issue with the thyroid gland, altering your overall body chemistry. If you’re an athlete with headaches, it’s important that you get checked by a Gonstead chiropractor so they can determine the exact cause.

Why Typical Treatment Options Won’t Help

If you sustain a concussion or other TBI, it’s important to be examined by a medical doctor to assess the severity and rule out any complications. Tests your doctor may perform or recommend include a neurological examination, cognitive testing and imaging tests, such as CT scans or MRI. Once the examination is complete and you are sent home, you are instructed to get physical and mental rest until your symptoms improve. For pain relief, you are instructed to take acetaminophen (Tylenol, etc.), as ibuprofen based NSAIDs may cause bleeding. Studies have also shown that NSAIDs deplete the body of glutathione. Glutathione is a key regulator of the immune system and is important in managing detoxification throughout the body. It is also vital in building and repairing tissue. Therefore, if you injure brain tissue, you do not want to deplete glutathione.

Although medical examinations are essential when it comes to concussion and other TBI, they neglect to look at the structure of the cervical spine. Unless it’s broken, of course. And as previously stated, with every head injury you also sustain an injury to the cervical spine. The cervical spine is integral in protecting the brainstem and spinal cord. It’s also responsible for a large percentage of blood flow to the brain. When the structure of the cervical spine is altered, it can cause pressure upon the brainstem, spinal cord or nerves, and it can decrease blood flow causing headaches. If you are an athlete with headaches, it is essential to get examined by a chiropractor to ensure proper healing of the cervical structures. By restoring proper alignment, and removing nerve pressure, tissues heal quicker and more efficiently.

What about Prevention?

There are a few things athletes can do to help prevent headaches. First, it’s important to use proper form when training and playing in games. Second, using the right equipment is essential. For example, if you are a football player, make sure your helmet fits well and that all of the pads inside are in good condition. Third, be sure to warm up and cool down properly before and after practices or games. Fourth, cross-train to help build different muscle groups and protect your body from the repetitive stress of one particular sport. Fifth, eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water to fuel your body and mind so they will perform at their best. And finally, get checked by your Gonstead chiropractor regularly to ensure that there is no pressure on the nervous system. Nerve pressure doesn’t always cause pain immediately. It may take years to feel a spinal misalignment, therefore it is important to stay proactive and get your nervous system checked regularly, especially if you play a contact sport. It may sound like a lot, but if you do all of these things, it will help to prevent headaches and other injuries.


If you are an athlete with headaches, it’s important to get checked by a Gonstead chiropractor so they can determine the exact cause. The best solution for you may be something as simple as spinal adjustments that help restore the balance of your nervous system and decrease pressure on your spine. By restoring this balance, we can often reduce or eliminate chronic or recurring headaches. Chiropractic care is also preventative, which means it can also help you avoid these types of headaches in the future. If you have any questions, or if you would like to schedule an appointment, please click here. We would be happy to help you on your journey to optimal health and performance.