If lower back pain is the number one reason people see chiropractors, then headaches are very likely the second biggest reason. Headaches are far too common, however they are never normal. 14.2% of adults have had a severe headache or migraine in the last 3 months (1). Half to three quarters of the adults aged 18–65 years in the world have had headache in the last year and among those individuals, more than 10% have reported migraine. Headache on 15 or more days every month affects 1.7–4% of the world’s adult population (2).
There are many factors that contribute to headaches: Stress, Nutritional, Hormonal, Structural (spinal/neurologic/vascular), etc. Migraines are often triggered by certain specific things like: red wine, certain cheeses, chocolate, food additives, exercise, odors, etc. Click this link for a good checklist of triggers. Finding which factors are contributing to your headaches can help manage them more effectively or even eliminate them entirely. Many of these factors are tied together, so trying to eliminate just one may not show great improvement with headaches. For example: spinal (neurologic) imbalances can create increased physical stress which can cause a hormonal response. Also, emotional stress can lead to poor diet (nutritional) and altered hormonal response. The best results will be seen when our patients try and eliminate as many variables as possible.
There are numerous types of headaches: Tension type, Migraine, Rebound, Cluster, and Cervicogenic to name a few. Cervicogenic headaches are those that start from structural issues in the neck and are often associated with neck pain. In our office we see most headache types improve with chiropractic care, however the types that respond most favorably are cervicogenic, tension type, and migraines. Chiropractic care focuses on improving the function of the spine and nervous system so that they work optimally. As your nervous system controls and coordinates all functions of the body it is imperative that the spine is evaluated and corrections are made to eliminate or reduce headache complaints.
“Cervical spine manipulation was associated with significant improvement in headache outcomes in trials involving patients with neck pain and/or neck dysfunction and headache.”
— McCrory, Penzlen, Hasselblad, Gray (2001), Duke Evidence Report
Symptoms from headaches are about as variable as the types of headaches. Pain may range from dull and achy, sharp, throbbing (pulsating), to band like tension around the whole head. Migraine sufferers often experience a pre-headache aura which may present as dizziness, light sensitivity, visual disturbances, or ringing in the ears. Pain from headaches and migraines can range from mild and annoying to severely debilitating. Often migraine sufferers need to find a dark, quiet room to lay down to help manage the pain that is exacerbated by light and sound. Headaches can afflict anyone of any age. A disturbing trend we have seen clinically is the number of children who experience headaches. One explanation for this may be due to increased postural stressors that come along with using more technology: computers, video games, tablets, texting, etc. Poor posture, like Forward Head Posture, is often present when using technology and can eventually lead to Upper Cross Syndrome and potentially a reversed cervical curve (neck curve).
Chiropractic care is a very safe, conservative form of treatment to consider before deciding to use medications to manage symptoms. Managing symptoms can be beneficial for someone experiencing severe pain from headache or migraine, however medications do nothing to correct what is causing the headaches.
“The results of this study show that spinal manipulative therapy is an effective treatment for tension headaches. . . Four weeks after cessation of treatment . . . the patients who received spinal manipulative therapy experienced a sustained therapeutic benefit in all major outcomes in contrast to the patients that received amitriptyline (medication) therapy, who reverted to baseline values.”
— Boline et al. (1995), Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics
Here at Thiele Chiropractic & Wellness we get great results with our patients who suffer from headaches and migraines. We provide a thorough consultation and evaluation to determine any spinal issues and discuss the best ways to improve nutrition and eliminate stress. We also determine if postural imbalances, like reversed cervical curves and upper cross syndrome may be adding to problematic headaches. If so, we incorporate spinal rehabilitation (stretches and exercises) and occasionally cervical traction to counter these postural imbalances in order to maximize long term results. Our goal is not only to get you out of pain, but to keep you out of pain.
- Table 48 – http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus13.pdf