Ask the Doctor – Can Chiropractic Help Headaches?

Headaches are painful, elusive, and one of the most common physical symptoms that people face throughout their lifetime. Pain can occur with a variety of intensity, frequency, location, and duration, and often is debilitating. Just as there are many types and causes of headaches, there are also many treatments that can relieve them without the use of medications.

According to the National Headache Foundation, more than 45 million Americans suffer from chronic, recurring headaches. Of those 45 million people, an estimated 28 million suffer from migraine headaches, an extremely painful condition that may include unpleasant additional symptoms, such as vomiting and visual disruption. It is interesting to note that about 20% of children complain of headaches.

Over the years, the trend toward suffering from headaches has escalated significantly, largely due to such lifestyle issues as greater stress, increased use of visual screens (mobile phones, texting, computers, etc), more caffeine, specific food chemicals, and poor eating habits. These can be added to basic physical triggers, such as hormonal changes, lack of a proper curve in the neck, whiplash injuries, slips and falls, heavy weights on the shoulders and neck (such as backpacks and laptop cases), and other factors. According to chiropractor specialist Dr. George B. McClelland of Christiansburg, Virginia, “Today, Americans engage in more sedentary activities than they used to, and more hours are spent in one fixed position or posture. This can increase joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back, and scalp, causing your head to ache.”

Types of Headaches

Headaches originate in diverse ways, including but not limited to:

• Tension: the most common type of headache, a muscle-contractive pain.

• Cervicogenic: pain from subluxation (misalignment) of the neck and upper back.

• Dietary: stemming from food chemicals, such as MSG, and commercial food processing techniques.

• Exertional: head pain that develops after exercising.

• Hormonal: most common in females with active reproductive cycles, using hormone-based birth control, or undergoing life-stage hormonal changes.

• Hypertension-based: a vascular (blood vessel related) issue that is usually worse during the night.

• Medication-induced: the side effect of many prescribed, store-bought medications.

• Sinus: deep constant pain at the front of the head and in the cheeks, with possible fever, a feeling of fullness in the ears, and actual swelling.

• Temporomandibular jaw (TMJ)-induced: a result of joint inflammation and clenching the teeth, which typically accompanies the disorder.

• Cluster: the least common type of headache, consisting of a severe, intense group of attacks behind one eye.

More than 150 headache categories have been identified. The majority involve symptoms that encompass pulsating, throbbing, or squeezing pain and can last just a few minutes to hours and even several days. Additional signals associated with headaches frequently include light sensitivity; auras, sometimes provoked by certain odors or noise; and more intense symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and stomach cramps, visual disturbances, floaters, fever, dizziness, and loss of skin tone. Numerous options exist for headache treatment, and the approach to care typically varies with the type of headache that is occurring.

Headache Treatment and Care

Treatment and care for headaches includes prescription and over-the-counter medications, chiropractic care, acupuncture, trigger point therapy and massage, night guards to prevent teeth grinding, dietary modifications, and changes in lifestyle. Various medications have been shown to alleviate headaches, and, often, a simple conversation with your family physician and alteration of your medication regimen can reduce and even end the pain.

As early as 1995, an article in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT) reported that chiropractic adjustments were determined to be effective in relieving headaches when following the chiropractor’s treatment plan and produced more benefit than most prescribed medications. Then, in 2001, a study performed at Duke University showed that spinal adjustments helped curb the majority of headaches that arose from muscle spasms and headaches stemming from the neck. The effect of adjustments was also reported to last much longer than the duration of most prescribed medications.

A recent study reported in the JMPT showed that people who took appropriate pain medications did get relief; however, those who were under chiropractic care experienced greater relief and had far fewer side effects than participants taking medication. Chiropractic care has proved to be particularly effective at easing the pain and correcting the origination of many kinds of headaches.

Proactive Measures

A variety of proactive measures can help lower the likelihood of developing a headache. • If you typically stay in a fixed position for long periods doing computer work or another kind of laborious activity, try stretching every 45 minutes.

• Avoid staring at computer screens for long periods of time. Tilt your head from side to side and stretch. Raise your computer monitor to a position slightly above eye level.

• Have your eyes checked by a doctor to make sure that your vision has not changed.

• Try to avoid teeth clenching where possible and have periodic dental checkups.

• Avoid placing too many pillows underneath your neck when lying down and reading or watching television.

• Stay hydrated, as many headaches occur because of a lack of water intake throughout the day.

• Limit intake of red wines and red meats, as both are known headache triggers.

• Consult your physician about the many medications that cause headaches as side effects, and determine whether you are taking any of them.

• If you are a woman who experiences difficult menstrual cycles, consult your obstetrician/gynecologist and discuss altering any related medications you are taking.

• Avoid foods with caffeine, MSG, and other excitotoxins that contain MSG, such as hydrolyzed protein and autolyzed yeast, bouillon, sodium caseinate, natural flavors, and spices.

Studies show that one of eight people in the US sees a chiropractor. Consult your family chiropractor regarding a headache treatment plan that is right for you. Many headaches are caused by a lack of neck curve that results in muscle spasms and spinal cord tension as well as misalignments. Massage therapy can “do wonders” for tension in the head and neck, and acupuncture has become increasingly popular as a care option. More people than ever are gravitating toward natural methods of managing their headaches, and evidence points to the fact that, to a large extent, they are achieving the relief they seek.

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