Chiropractic and Headaches

Following low back pain, headache is the most common condition encountered in a chiropractic office. Approximately 70% of males and 80% of females get headaches in one form or another. They account for 18.3 million outpatient visits per year.

Over 90 % of headaches can be classified into 3 categories:

  • Tension-type
  • Migraine
  • Cervicogenic

The majority of frequent headache sufferers get tension type headaches. They typically suffer mild to moderate pain, on both sides of the head, that is often described as tight, stiff, constricting – like having something wrapped around your head and pressing tightly.

Migraines are periodic severe, throbbing headaches that afflict far fewer people (and more women than men), usually hurt on one side of the head, can cause loss of appetite, nausea and even vomiting, and may involve a visual change called an aura.

Cervicogenic headache is a muskuloskeletal form of tension-type headache (which may also be related to migraines). Many times, cervicogenic headache goes undiagnosed as such due to the relative newness of this classification.

Most headaches are not signs of serious underlying conditions, but they can be very distracting, debilitating and account for significant amounts of time lost from work.

Controlling headaches through drugs

If you are a headache sufferer, your obvious concern is to obtain safe, dependable relief. You should avoid making things worse by using drugs – even over-the-counter, nonprescription drugs – that can have serious side effects and dangerous interactions with other medications or supplements you take. You should also be aware that many people experience what are termed "analgesic rebound headaches" from taking painkillers every day, or nearly every day. Watch out! The medicine you take to get rid of today's headache may give you a headache tomorrow and the days after.

Use of over-the-counter medications as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen (or more commonly, combination sedatives/painkillers) is believed to interfere with the brain centers that regulate the flow of pain messages into the nervous system. In other words, there is a worsening of the headache disorder. This means that even if the patient is taking only over-the-counter painkillers on a daily or almost daily basis, they must stop until the body's own pain fighting mechanisms recover.

Chiropractic is a safe and effective, drug free treatment for headaches

Chiropractors have had considerable success relieving the cause of headache pain and releasing headache sufferers from the dangerous vicious circle of taking ever-larger doses of ever-stronger painkillers that may even be causing new and worse headaches.

Chiropractic adjustments have shown to be as effective and even more effective than medications in reducing the severity and frequency of headaches. Chiropractic is particularly successful dealing with cervicogenic headache. Even though cervicogenic and other tension-type headaches may not actually involve stress or muscle tension, chiropractic's ability to adjust spinal abnormalities seems to lessen or remove the forces contributing to many individuals¹ headache pain.

Chiropractic care is considerably safer than taking nonsteroidal anti inflammatories, or NSAIDS (over the counter drugs such as aspirin, Ibuprofen and Motrin). You are 200 times more likely to experience a serious complication from taking NSAIDS daily or almost daily (>2-3 times per week) for headache pain relief, than from chiropractic treatment for the same problem. For more information on safety of chiropractic treatment compared to more traditional treatments (such as medication, surgery, etc…) go here.

References

  1. Bove G, Nilsson N. Spinal manipulation in the treatment of episodic tension-type headache, The Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 11, 1998; vol. 280, no. 18, pp1576-79.
  2. Nelson CF, Bronfort G, Evans R. et al. The efficacy of spinal manipulation, amitriptyline and the combination of both therapies for prophylaxis of migraine headache. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, Oct. 1998; vol. 21, no. 8, pp511-19.
  3. Zwart J. Neck Mobility in different headache disorders. Headache, Jan. 1997; vol. 37, pp6-11.
  4. Nilsson N, Christiansen HW, Hartvigsen J. The effect of spinal manipulation in the treatment of cervicogenic headache, Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, June 1997;vol. 20, no. 5, pp326-30.
  5. Martelletti P, LaTour D, Giacovazzo M. Spectrum of pathophysiological disorders in cervicogenic headache and its therapeutic indications, Journal of the Neuromusculoskeletal System, Winter 1995; vol. 3, no. 4, pp167-8
  6. Mathew NT. Recognizing the source of rebound headache. Emergency Medicine Dec 1992;129-135.
  7. Mathew NT. Drug-induced headache. Neurologic Clinics November 1990;8(4):903-912. Markley HG.
  8. Chronic headache: appropriate use of opiate analgesics. Neurology 44 (suppl 3) May 1994;S18-S24.
  9. Lance F, Parkes C, Wilkinson M. Does analgesic abuse cause headaches do novo? Headache 1988;28(1):61-62.
  10. Nelson CF. The Tension Headache, Migraine Headache Continuum: A Hypothesis. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, March/April 1994; vol. 17, no. 3, pp156-66.