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.