All posts in Headaches

Can a Chiropractor Help my Headaches? YES!

We’ve all had one: a headache. They’re extremely common and stem from a variety of causes ranging from changes in weather to stress. They’re so common, some suffers actually seek treatment for their headaches on a daily basis.

Most commonly, headaches stem from the neck.  Excessive screen time or constant texting keeps your head in a downward position, which increases the pressure on your neck and upper back causing problems over time. This repeated position also sends pain into your head.

Many headaches start with tightness between the shoulder blades, which then tightens the muscles at the top of your shoulders and radiates into your head.Headache

Research shows that spinal manipulation – the primary form of care provided by doctors of chiropractic – may be an effective treatment option for tension headaches and headaches that originate in the neck.

In fact, a 2001 report by researchers at the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham, NC, 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 headache than a commonly prescribed medication.

Regular chiropractic adjustments will help improve the mobility of your spine and will also enable you to sit for extended periods of time with improved posture.

Chiropractic adjustments will also return your spine’s function and movement to normal and will reduce the amount of muscle pull happening between your neck and skull, thus reducing the amount of headaches you have.



Types of Migraine Headaches

Migraines affect about 15% of the population.  Migraines are divided into two categories:  classic migraines and common migraines.  Migraine headaches that begin with aura are known as classic migraines, and migraine headaches without an aura are known as common migraines.

The word migraine, derived from the Greek hemikrania, which means “half of the head,” refers to a throbbing pain in one side of the head that’s often accompanied by a stiff and tender neck, extreme sensitivity to light and noise, difficulty concentrating and nausea.

Despite the name’s origin, the pain may also travel throughout the entire head at times. The symptoms can last as little as four hours or as long as three days, and are often followed by a postdrome (aftereffect) phase during which patients feel exhausted and mentally inept.

Classic migraines also involve what health-care practitioners call an aura, which is a pre-migraine period lasting between 15 and 60 minutes that involves zigzag lines or shimmering stars in the field of vision. Some patients with the condition also report having blind spots and tunnel vision, and in rare instances report speech disturbances, confusion and odd sensations such as tingling, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs. Within an hour, the symptoms associated with the aura usually subside and the migraine headache pain develops.

All types of migraine headaches affect women more than men, by a ratio of about three to one. Genetics also plays a role, and the American Council for Headache Education reports that about 90% of people who get migraines have a family history of the condition.

Approximately 20% of people who have migraines will experience auras. Why some people get them and others don’t is still largely a mystery. In fact, researchers don’t even understand the exact cause of migraines in general. Currently, they’re focusing on the relationship between migraines and blood flow in the brain, electrical imbalances in cells, structural changes, and hormonal changes in the central nervous system in the hopes of uncovering the mechanism that causes the condition.

They already know, however, that a variety of things are correlated with migraines, including emotional stress, intense physical exertion, changes in the weather, environmental pollutants, certain medications, changes in sleep patterns and foods such as dairy products, red wine and chocolate.

Research also shows that people who get migraines, both with and without auras, have less frequent and less intense headaches after receiving proper care. If you get migraines with aura, your healthcare practitioner will investigate their nature by taking a detailed history of your condition and possibly performing a physical and neurological examination to rule out any organic causes, such as tumors.  Following this, adequate care can begin.


Relief from Migraine Headaches

People who have migraine headaches have always been near and dear to my heart.  Probably because I suffered from them for many years, and migraines are one of the main reasons why I became a chiropractor.  When I was a freshman in high school I realized that I had inherited the migraine headaches from my dad’s side of the family.  At the time I was seeing my family’s chiropractor for a back injury I had from playing volleyball.  So my mom took me to see Dr. McKolosky for the migraines.  Amazingly, it worked.  I found that if I could get in to see him when they started, I wouldn’t be laid up in bed for the next 2 days.  And getting my neck regularly adjusted would prevent me from getting them at all.  I made it through undergrad by seeing my chiropractor on breaks, but chiropractic school was a different beast.  My neck, as a guinea pig for my classmates to learn how to adjust, did not fare well for my migraine headaches.  They pretty much came back with a vengeance and stayed with me for the first few years of practice until I could get my neck repaired from the damage done to it in chiropractic school.  But now that my neck is better and I’m back under regular chiropractic care, I can honestly tell you that I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a migraine.  It must have been some time in winter/spring of 2009.  In high school, having someone take away my horrible, throbbing pain and nausea with such ease made me realize that I wanted to be able to do the same thing for others.

Many people will ask me how chiropractors can help migraines since they are a vascular headache.  To answer that, I need to explain how migraine headaches work.  Something happens in a migraine patient’s body that causes the arteries going up into the head to constrict or become smaller.  That trigger can be anything from stress, hormones, or a reaction to food or chemicals.  Whenever that trigger reaches a certain threshold the body responds by constricting those blood vessels.  The brain picks up on a decrease in blood flow going up to the head and it sends out a signal to dilate or make the vessels bigger.  This results in a significant increase in blood flow up to the head.  That is where the pain and throbbing of the migraine comes from.  For those of you who get the auras before you get the migraine headaches, they are a result of the constriction of the blood vessels going up to the brain.  Whatever part of the brain gets lack of blood flow is where the aura is – if it’s the part of the brain that controls vision you get the lights or dots before the eyes, if it’s the part of the brain that controls smell – your aura is smell-based, etc.

Now that you understand how the migraine works, let me explain how chiropractic can help.  The nerves coming out of the upper neck innervate those blood vessels going to the head.  If the nerves in your upper neck are getting irritated from subluxations or misalignments in the spine, the blood vessels become more reactive to stimuli.  That means the things that trigger changes in the blood vessels such as foods, stress, hormones, etc. are more likely to trigger a migraine because those blood vessels are more easily stimulated.  So what chiropractic care does is relieve some of the nerve irritation and, as a result, the blood vessels are less reactive to triggers.  Let me give you an example, when I was in high school one of my triggers was chocolate.  I could eat one candy bar and end up with a migraine.  Our family’s chiropractor found I had a number of subluxations in my upper neck that he treated.  Once those misalignments were resolved, I had less nerve irritation and less likelihood of getting a migraine after eating only one candy bar.  When my neck was in good shape I’d have to go on a literal chocolate binge to get a migraine from chocolate because my threshold for triggering a migraine was higher.

I see the same thing with patients that come into my office.  Before treatment a mildly stressful day at work would send them home with a migraine.  Now it has to be a significantly stressful day at work before they get a migraine.  Chiropractic care does not necessarily “cure” migraines, but it raises the threshold of how much of a trigger you need in order to get one.  For migraine sufferers, this can be a huge deal.  Imagine going from a migraine a week to a migraine every couple of months.  The quality of life is definitely improved.

If you are interested in learning how chiropractic care may help your migraine headaches, feel free to contact me.  If you are not in the Apex, NC area, I may be able to find you someone in your area who may be able to help you.


Hope for Headache Sufferers

Many people are moving away from using drugs for headache treatment.  A recent study conducted by Duke University states that chiropractic adjustments to the neck are “associated with significant improvement in headache outcomes…”  Another study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that “headache patients who received spinal manipulation therapy experienced a sustained therapeutic benefit in all major outcomes in contrast to patients that received prescribed drug therapy.”  More and more evidence is demonstrating that cervicogenic, tension and even migraine headaches can be improved without the use of potentially harmful prescription drugs or over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine.  So if you’re a headache sufferer and are tired of taking expensive medications with potentially harmful side effects, you may want to contact a chiropractor in your area to see if they can help.