Headaches and Migraines – How Can Chiropractic Help?

Everyone gets the occasional headache, but some headaches get so bad they won’t go away. While drugs treat the symptoms, they often ignore the underlying cause of the problem.

The worst headaches can be slow to respond to the intended effect of the medications. The stronger medications can have negative and long-lasting effects to the rest of your body when used for extended periods. This is why many people finally decide to look to other, more natural (and safer) solutions for their problem such as chiropractic.

Different Kinds of Headaches
In order to better treat any problem it is first important to understand what causes it. There are many different kinds of headaches, some which can be treated by chiropractic better than others. Headaches are most commonly caused by:

Blood vessel constriction in the sensitive outer covering of the brain
Tension of the muscles
Sinus congestion

These headaches can radiate pain all over the head and can feel like they radiate to many different locations. It is most important to know that chiropractic is a great solution to those headaches primarily associated with muscle tension and restriction in blood flow around the brain. Sinus headaches may be treated as well but the cause is likely to be more complicated.

The three main types of headaches most often found in chiropractic offices are:

Migraine headaches
Tension headaches
Cervicogenic headaches
(from the neck)

The last type of headache mentioned sounds a bit scary, but it just simply means a headache that is caused by referred pain that originates within the joints, muscles, or nerves of the neck.

Tension Headaches
When we become stressed, frightened, or angry, the body will respond with increased muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, or head. This reaction, often called a fight or flight response, is how we respond to stress. If stress becomes constant in our lives, that muscle tension can become just another habit.
This can lead to imbalances in the body, which then leads to more muscle tension and pain. Chiropractic care can will relax the tight muscles and realign the spine underneath to end this vicious cycle of pain. Those that are seeking treatment for tension headaches may often see a drastic improvement with just a few spinal adjustments as the nerves become less irritated and the muscles become more relaxed.

Migraine Headaches
Migraines are brought about by changes in vascular flow around the outer layers of the brain. These can be triggered by a variety of factors such as different smells, foods, weather, hormonal changes and stress. These often very painful headaches do not always start off as pain. They can begin with nausea or the person may experience a halo effect called a visual aura.

The often confusing part about these triggers is that on one particular day you may experience a migraine after eating chocolate; a common trigger. 
You say to yourself “Chocolate gives me migraines” but three months down the track you by chance eat chocolate and you don’t get the familiar severe pain – What is happening?

I like to explain the sometimes random nature of migraine triggers to my patients by asking them to imagine that they are holding an empty glass. This glass partially fills each time they are exposed to whatever triggers they are sensitive to. They could be hormonal changes associated with a woman’s normal cycle, eating some chocolate, neck pain associated with work stress, bright light from driving home facing the setting sun in the afternoon, etc.

When the last trigger fills the glass – Bam! There is your migraine. The order of the triggers filling the glass however might have changed, which is why in this instance chocolate didn’t cause it. It makes sense now, doesn’t it?  
Migraine sufferers are experiencing what is called “Autonomic Dysregulation”. This means that their autonomic nervous system – the part of the nervous system that looks after the automatic housekeeping functions; like the motion of the muscles around the stomach or the dilation of the pupils of the eyes, is overly sensitive. It’s as if the volume is set too high! This explains the nausea or the sensitivity to light along with many other associated symptoms. 

A number of well researched studies have demonstrated that chiropractic treatment may play a significant role in reducing the number of migraines a person has. By careful manipulation of the neck and spine, chiropractic adjustments may be able to help reset the autonomic nervous system; to turn down the volume, and prevent the frequency and severity of migraines. 

Treatment Types
Chiropractic treatment has a focus on the concept of manipulating the spinal column of the back and neck to reduce irritation on the spinal nerves, to improve posture and to regulate blood flow. To treat a headache, the chiropractor will likely perform an adjustment with his or her hands, but may also use trigger point therapy, massage and other supporting types of treatments. The chiropractor will also likely recommend some stretching exercises and basic changes in posture to help keep things balanced in between visits.

Imagine how good that feels; being able to trust your body to react in a predictable way, instead of being ruled by fear of possible pain and relying on medication.