Chiropractic & Headaches
Whether occasional or frequent, dull or throbbing, or a migraine that causes debilitating pain and nausea, headaches are a common ailment among our patients. In fact, the American Chiropractic Association reports that 9 out of 10 Americans suffer from headaches.
Headaches can have many causes. These can include foods, environmental stimuli and daily behaviors (like excessive exercise and lack of sleep). About 95% of headaches are “primary” headaches – tension, migraine or cluster headaches. These can be the hardest forms of headache to treat with medications – the causes are often subtle physical problems that an average doctor won’t notice.
Recently many studies have shown that chiropractic care is in many cases more effective than medication in treating migraines and other headaches.
- A report released in 2001 by researchers at the duke University Evidence-based Practice Center found that spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those headaches that originate in the neck and had significantly fewer side effects and longer lasting relief of tension-type headaches than a commonly prescribed medication.
- According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, in one study “22% of those who received a chiropractic manipulation reported more than a 90% reduction of attacks. Also 49% reported a significant reduction of the intensity of each migraine.”
- In another study, in which participants were randomly assigned spinal manipulations, medication or a combination, spinal manipulation worked as well as the medication at reducing migraines, and had fewer side effects.
These studies are just starting to brush the tip of the iceberg where chiropractic care and headaches are concerned.
Because there are so many different causes for headaches, the first thing our office does is assess the cause of your headaches. Once we have an idea of what is causing your headaches, we will tailor a care plan to address the cause of your symptoms. These care plans usually include chiropractic adjustments to correct muscular and skeletal structure changes that are caused by stress or injury, as well as physical therapies like TENS or Ultrasound to help reduce nerve irritation. Our goal is to help our patients start having the "normal" number of headaches per year - which is none!
Tension headaches are caused by muscular tension and contraction involving the muscles of the shoulders, neck and head. Often this tension is a result of emotional stress, though injuries can also set a pattern of muscle contraction into play. It is normal for muscles to contract when we are threatened, irritated or angry, a reaction known as the fight or flight response. Over time, though, if work or home life creates a constant source of stress from which we can neither fight nor flee, the muscular tension can become chronic. This, in turn, leads to uneven stresses on the skeletal structure of the body, and changes in normal posture and movement to compensate. The stress this places on your body can actually change how the vertebrae in your neck - causing more stress to your muscles as they try to compensate for the shifting support structure beneath them. This can become a vicious cycle that eventually results in pain, often as headache pain.
Chiropractic adjustments, combined with other therapies such as trigger point therapy and massage, can release muscular tension and correct the skeletal changes to break the cycle of pain. Often patients with chronic headaches will find relief through chiropractic in just a few treatments, as muscles relax and nerve irritation is reduced
Migraine headaches are vascular headaches, arising from sudden dilation of the blood vessels of the head. No one knows exactly what causes migraine headaches, though the basic mechanism, involving both the nervous and vascular systems, is well studied. Migraines can be triggered by hormonal changes, foods, smells, weather changes, stress, and many other triggers. The headaches often begin with symptoms other than pain, such as visual auras, nausea or sensitivity to light and sound. The headache that follows can vary in intensity, but is often severe. Many migraine sufferers have found over-the-counter pain medications to be ineffective, and resign themselves to wait out the migraine event in a dark, quiet room. A variety of pharmaceutical drugs have been developed to treat migraines, but none of them work for everyone, and many have unwanted side effects.
Chiropractic can play an important role in treating migraines. Clinical studies, though still preliminary, suggest that chiropractic may have a measurable role in the prevention of migraines. Through manipulation and adjustments of the spine and neck, migraines can often be reduced or prevented. Nerves control vascular system tension, and chiropractic adjustments reduce irritation of the nervous system beginning with its roots in the spine, also improving vascular flow.