Headaches or migraines are commonly associated with dysfunction of the cervical spine. Symptoms, from a dull ache to throbbing pain, are created when the cervical vertebrae lose their normal position or motion and sensitive nerves and blood vessels, connected with structures in the head are stretched or inflamed. In many instances the tight knots in the muscles of the neck, called trigger points, can also refer pain to the head. Of course there are other factors connected with headaches including toxic fumes, certain foods, additives such as MSG, alcohol, caffeine, and stress. Still, one must always look at the tissues and alignment of the neck when considering the cause of headaches and migraines. Chiropractic adjustments and management have proved to be very effective in the treatment of headaches.
If you have a headache, you’re not alone. Nine out of ten Americans suffer from headaches. Some are occasional, some frequent, some are dull and throbbing, and some cause debilitating pain and nausea.
What do you do when you suffer from a pounding headache? Do you grit your teeth and carry on? Lie down? Pop a pill and hope the pain goes away? There is a better alternative.
Research shows that spinal manipulation – the primary form of care provided by doctors of chiropractic – may be an effective treatment option for tension headaches and headaches that originate in the neck.
A report released in 2001 by researchers at the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham, NC, found that spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those headaches that originate in the neck, and had significantly fewer side effects and longer-lasting relief of tension-type headache than a commonly prescribed medication.
The pain of a migraine can be so searing you may as well drill a hole through your head. Then again this was the remedy of choice 3,000 years ago when evil spirits were thought to be the culprit behind migraines. While modern-day treatments have changed, the mystery behind the condition remains.
One popular theory: Migraines result from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Often a trigger, such as certain foods or hormones, can cause blood vessels to dilate in the brain. The vessels become inflamed, thus irritating surrounding nerve fibers. The nerve fibers then send messages back to control centers in the brain, which continues vessel dilation, thus kicking off a vicious cycle of violent pain.
There are plenty of drugs that combat migraines, though no magic bullet exists. Some studies, however, show that alternative treatments can complement mainstream medicine. A study from Northwestern College of Chiropractic in Bloomington, Minnesota, compared chiropractic manipulation with amitriptyline, an antidepressant commonly used to treat migraines. The study found that chiropractic healing was about as successful as the drug.
Chiropractors believe that some migraines originate in the spine. Often a misalignment of the vertebrae, or subluxation, can irritate the nerves that travel the length of the spine to the brain. This misalignment makes a person more prone to chemical imbalances in the brain. Some researchers say that realigning the vertebrae—a chiropractor's specialty—relieves the pressure against inflamed nerves and can in turn relieve the headaches.
For migraines caused by subluxation, chiropractors recommend gently stretching the neck—rolling and sudden movements should be avoided. To prevent subluxations, pay attention to your posture. For example, if you sit for long periods in front of a computer, move your body around frequently. Also, sleep on your side or back, and use a firm pillow that supports your neck.