Chiropractic Care for Tension Headaches and Migraines

Headaches are such a common problem that they account for the largest majority of over the counter pain medication sales.  What if there was a way to reduce your headache’s intensity and frequency naturally, without all the potentially harmful side effects?  Chiropractic care can help.

Headache Overview

A common headache, such as a tension headache or migraine headache, is called a primary headache.  This term means the headache is isolated, and not caused by any underlying disease or disorder.  If your headache is caused by another factor, like high blood pressure, it is called a secondary headache.

Even though it feels as if your brain is hurting when you have a headache, it really isn’t.  The brain structure itself is incapable of feeling pain.  Your brain is processing pain from somewhere else in your body; most headaches start in the muscles, nerves and blood vessels in the neck.

Because headaches begin in the neck or the back of the head, chiropractic treatment of chronic headaches has been proven to be a very effective treatment choice for relief.  Research findings in a 2014 study released by the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics reveals that many common treatments chiropractors use, such as gentle manipulation of the neck and spine, reduce neck pain that can lead to headaches.  The same journal also released findings in 2011 proving that spinal manipulation will provide relief from cervicogenic and migraine headaches.

 

Causes of Primary Headaches

Anything that causes a primary headache is called a “trigger.”  Common headache triggers are:

 

  • Stress: Emotional or external stressors can result in headaches
  • Food reactions: Some foods will trigger headaches in those with sensitivities
  • Behaviors: Alcohol consumption, poor sleep habits, too much screen time
  • Environmental overstimulation: This includes lights, noise, etc.

types of headaches

Only 5% of headaches are caused by underlying physical issues.  The majority of the other 95% are caused by muscle tension of the neck.  Americans spend more time then ever before doing sedentary things that keep them in one position for hours at a time, such as computer work and gaming.  Being in the same position leads to muscle tension in your upper back, neck and scalp and can lead to joint irritation.

 

Preventing Primary Headaches

Since we know how primary headaches are caused, we can take a few steps to reduce our risks of developing them.  These are a few tips suggested by The American Chiropractic Association (ACA):

  1. Stay hydrated: Dehydration is a common cause of primary headaches.  It is generally recommended that you follow the rule of eights: eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.
  2. Stop clenching your teeth: When you clench your teeth, stress is placed on the temporomandibular joints (known as the TMJ).  These are the joints that connect your jaw and your skull.  Irritation of the TMJ causes a type of tension headache.  Except when you swallow, your upper and lower teeth should never touch.
  3. Move around: Activities that require you to stay in one position for an extended amount of time such as reading, sewing, and typing or computer work can result in a headache.  It is recommended that every half hour to an hour, you should get up and stretch.  Move your head and neck through a comfortable series of range of motion exercises.
  4. Exercise: Low impact activities like aerobics and walking can help relieve your headache.  Heavy exercise should be avoided if you frequently suffer dull, throbbing headache pain.

 

How can a Chiropractor Help Your Headaches?

 

Chiropractors are professionals who are trained to help their patients in many ways, not just back pain.  Chiropractors understand that spinal tension can deeply affect many areas of the body, and they can treat this underlying tension to ease the frequency of your headaches.

Headache sufferers should make an appointment to see a chiropractor.  During your visit, the doctor can help you in many ways.

Suggest new ways of doing things:  Your chiropractor will give you helpful advice on ergonomics (your posture at work), your overall posture when sitting and standing, relaxation techniques, and an exercise plan to help relieve tension and joint irritation in your back and neck muscles and joints.

Offer nutritional advice:  Your chiropractor may recommend dietary changes and supplements, such as B complex vitamins, to relieve frequent headaches.

Spinal manipulation:  Your chiropractor will perform gentle manipulation techniques to alleviate stress and muscle tension, and to improve your spinal function.

 

Migraine Headaches

woman with migraine

Throbbing headaches that include other symptoms such as nausea, blurred vision, and hyper-sensitivity to noise or light are classified as migraines.  Migraines are debilitating and unpredictable.  To be diagnosed as a migraine, the headache must produce nausea that is worsened by light or sound.

 

Migraine Statistics:

  • Migraines are more prevalent for women, at 15%, than for men, at 6%.
  • 70% of migraine sufferers usually have a family medical history of migraines
  • Upper airway congestion is reported in 46% of migraine cases
  • Neck pain is common for migraine sufferers, with 75% reporting it during the episode
  • Fully half of all migraine sufferers are aware of what triggers the episodes. Lack of sleep, stress, eating some types of food, and drinking alcohol are common migraine triggers

 

Chiropractic Headache Treatment Success Story

In 2010, Jim (name changed) began suffering recurrent, debilitating migraine headaches.  He had no physical reason or past trauma that would account for his pain, and they increased from only one headache a month to once a week.

Jim’s pain was typical of a migraine; he reported neck pain and tightness, sensitivity to bright light, and an unrelenting pressure behind his eyes.  When the migraines struck, the only thing he could do was sleep; they were debilitating.

The 31-year-old man had tried to find relief through a Naturopath.  The practitioner suggested that Jim eat more magnesium rich food, and he did have some reduction in his migraines.

Jim, desperate for complete relief, sought chiropractic treatment.  His chiropractor gave him a thorough exam to rule out physical issues like vision disorders, vascular issues or tumors.  Finding nothing, the chiropractor evaluated Jim’s spine and neck.

This evaluation brought some issues to light; Jim was found to have trigger points and sensitivity in his upper back and lower neck muscles.  When the chiropractor stimulated these areas, he was able to reproduce Jim’s migraine pain.

Jim’s chiropractor began a customized treatment plan for him, involving visits one to two times weekly over the course of eight weeks.  During these visits, the chiropractor used gentle manipulation of the spine and massage therapy to relieve muscle tension.  At the time of his discharge, the chiropractor gave Jim an exercise plan, nutritional advice, stress and tension relieving techniques, and some nutritional counseling.

After Jim’s first chiropractic treatment, his migraines were gone.  By the fifth week of treatment, Jim was able to go to the gym and workout five times per week.

Chiropractic Headache Treatments

Chiropractic treatment is simply a “whole body” approach that treats underlying problems, and not just their symptoms.  Many pain related issues, such as headaches, can be eased by a chiropractor’s gentle and natural techniques.  Because headaches have very identifiable physical causes, your chiropractor can evaluate you and customize a treatment plan to reduce the frequency and intensity of your pain.

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