Most good chiropractors employ the use of physical, orthopaedic and neurological tests to pinpoint potential causes of the headache. The practitioner will then use spinal manipulation to treat the headache, thus:
- Improving spinal alignment.
- Reducing nerve irritation.
- Reducing muscle tension.
- Improving blood flow and circulation.
A chiropractor may aim to reduce headache symptoms with massage and Trigger Point Therapy, and may even use x-ray to determine whether abnormal positioning of the shoulder and neck are causing the headaches. They may also recommend a suitable lifestyle plan including relaxation techniques, daily stretches, changes in posture and other exercises.
Tension headaches result from muscular tension in the head, neck and shoulders. This tension ultimately leads to changes in normal posture and movement in order to compensate, which itself results in even more muscular tension, thus creating a vicious cycle that causes an increasingly painful headache.
Chiropractic aims to resolve and break the vicious cycle by releasing any muscular tension, and by realigning skeletal structures. Relief is often experienced from tension headaches minutes after Chiropractic treatment, after which muscle tension has eased and nerve irritation has been reduced.
Certain triggers cause a sudden dilation of blood vessels in the head to occur, thus producing a painful migraine. Recent studies (see the one by Macquarie University below) have shown chiropractic adjustments improve blood to nerves rooted in the spine which themselves are responsible for vascular system tension control. Read more here.
Chiropractic therapy for migraine
The study A randomized controlled trial of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy for migraine was completed through the Department of Chiropractic at Macquarie University in 2000 and shed light on the influence of chiropractic care as therapy for migraine headaches.
The study was undertaken to assess the efficacy of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) in the treatment of migraine. 127 volunteers between the ages of 10 and 70 years were recruited, with diagnosis of migraine made on the basis of the International Headache Society standard, with a minimum of at least one migraine per month.
Results: 22% of participants reported more than a 90% reduction of migraines as a consequence of the 2 months of SMT. Approximately 50% more participants reported significant improvement in the morbidity of each episode. The results of this study support previous results showing that some people report significant improvement in migraines after chiropractic SMT. A high percentage (>80%) of participants reported stress as a major factor for their migraines. It appears probable that chiropractic care has an effect on the physical conditions related to stress and that in these people the effects of the migraine are reduced.
What can you do to alleviate headaches?
The American Chiropractic Association suggests the following:
- If you spend a large amount of time in one fixed position, such as in front of a computer, take a break and stretch every 30 minutes to one hour. The stretches should take your head and neck through a comfortable range of motion.
- Low-impact exercise may help relieve the pain associated with headaches. Engage in such activities as walking and low-impact aerobics.
- Avoid teeth clenching. This results in stress at the two joints that connect your jaw to your skull – leading to irritation and a form of tension headaches.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day to help avoid dehydration, which can lead to headaches.
What can a Chiropractor do?
A chiropractor may do one or more of the following:
- Perform spinal manipulation or chiropractic adjustments to improve spinal function and alleviate the stress on your system.
- Offer advice on posture, ergonomics, exercises and relaxation techniques. This advice should help to relieve the recurring joint irritation and tension in the muscles of the neck and upper back.
Dr Sarah MacNeil
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