Chiropractic Care for Headache Relief
The classic tension, migraine, or cluster headache is one of the top reasons why Americans reach for pain medications and take days off work. Most of the time, headache symptoms don’t indicate any life-threatening health issues such as a brain tumor. But still, a chronic daily headache is incredibly painful and can definitely interfere with your work and your life. If you feel like you’ve tried all sorts of preventative medications, medical procedures, and lifestyle changes and you’re still not experiencing relief, chiropractic treatment may be the next best option for you.
Dr. Huebner at the Colorado Muscle & Joint Clinic has helped countless patients experience relief from headaches, neck pain, back pain, limb pain, and musculoskeletal injuries. His techniques include spinal manipulation, myofascial release, muscle scraping, neuromuscular rehabilitation, and more. Call 970-744-6499 to schedule an appointment at his Loveland, CO clinic today.
What is a Headache?
We all know what a headache is – it’s a pain in your head, neck, or face. Headache pain can be described as a sharp or dull ache or even a constant throbbing pain. Headaches can also vary depending on the location and severity of the pain.
But what actually causes headache pain? In short, the pain is triggered by blood vessels and muscles in the head, face, and neck. The blood vessels can become tightened or enlarged and the muscles can become tense, both of which can put pressure on surrounding nerves. These nerves will then send pain signals to the central nervous system, which usually results in classic headache pain.
Types of Headaches
According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are more than 150 types of headaches out there, all varying in type of pain, location, severity, and frequency. But most headaches fall into two main categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches.
A primary headache is basically a headache that isn’t a symptom of some other illness or condition. In other words, the head pain is the main problem. Primary headaches can include:
- Tension type headaches (which are the most common types of headaches)
- New Daily Persistent Headaches (NDPH) which is one of many headache disorders
- Cluster headaches (which are most commonly characterized by intense pain behind the eyes)
If you have a primary headache on the side of the head (or in another location), you can rest assured knowing that it’s likely nothing serious like a brain tumor. Still, migraines and chronic tension type headaches can cause severe pain that greatly disrupts day-to-day life.
Certain situations and lifestyle factors can trigger primary headaches. Listed below are common headache triggers.
- Alcoholic beverages (especially red wine)
- Certain smells from candles, perfumes, air fresheners, or cleaning products
- Changes in sleep schedule
- Some types of foods (for example: processed meats that have nitrates)
- Being too hungry
- Having poor posture
- Intense exercise
- Any type of pressure or strain caused by coughing, sneezing, blowing the nose, laughing, or even crying
Secondary headaches are symptoms of other medical conditions. Most secondary headaches are not serious, and resolve once the medical condition resolves. Common conditions that can cause secondary headaches include:
- Nasal congestion
- Overusing medications or medication withdrawal
- Caffeine withdrawal
- Being hungover
- Neck strain or muscle spasms
- Injuries such as concussions or whiplash
- Hormonal changes (such as menstruation, pregnancy, and/or menopause)
The only types of secondary headaches that you should be concerned about are thunderclap headaches or spinal headaches.
A thunderclap headache is a severe headache that causes sudden and intense pain, similarly to thunder during a storm, hence the name. The pain will generally reach full intensity in less than a minute and will stick around for at least five minutes. These headaches can be harmless, but they can also indicate serious medical conditions such as a head injury, sudden high blood pressure, a brain bleed, or reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS).
Spinal headaches occur usually after a spinal tap. The pain is caused by spinal fluid leaking out of the meninges of the spinal cord and brain. Without prompt medical treatment, spinal headaches can cause life-threatening complications like seizures and subdural hematomas.
How Common are Migraine Headaches?
Migraines are one of many neurological disorders that can cause severe throbbing pain in the head and behind the eyes. A migraine headache can come with a variety of other neurological symptoms including auras, partial loss of vision, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to stimuli (lights, sounds, smells), dizziness, etc.
According to the American Migraine Foundation, more than 39 million Americans suffer from this type of extremely painful headache. The number of people who suffer from migraine pain may be much higher due to how many people suffer at home without proper diagnosis or treatment.
When Should I Go to the Doctor for Headaches?
Most of the time, headache symptoms are not a huge cause of concern, especially if you are generally healthy and haven’t endured a major accident or injury.
So at what point should you see a doctor for a headache? You should see a doctor immediately if you’re experiencing:
- Chronic daily headaches that don’t improve with over-the-counter medications.
- Headaches accompanied by a stiff neck, fever, rashes, and shortness of breath.
- A headache that occurs after a head injury or a major accident.
- A new type of headache you haven’t experienced before (especially if you’re over the age of 55).
- Muscle weakness.
- Tingling and numbness throughout the body.
- Changes in vision, speech, balance, personality, behavior, or coordination.
- General confusion or delirium.
- Paralysis throughout the body.
How to Get Rid of Headaches
Mild to moderate pain in the head can usually be treated at home. At-home treatment options that may provide temporary relief include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
- Ice or heat therapy on the neck or head.
- Gently stretching and rolling the neck.
- Massaging the head, neck, or back.
- Laying down in a dark, cool, and quiet environment.
- Taking a nap.
- Drinking a cup of coffee.
- Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and gentle exercise.
Can Chiropractic Care Provide Headache Relief?
Chiropractic care can involve spinal manipulation, massage, physical therapy exercises, general nutrition and lifestyle advice, and more. And yes, chiropractic care can definitely be an effective treatment for certain types of headaches, such as:
- Chronic tension headaches,
- Cervicogenic headaches (head pain that starts in the neck),
- And headache disorders like migraines.
Chiropractic care is a form of holistic and alternative medicine that can be incredibly effective in relieving symptoms of all sorts of musculoskeletal issues, including frequent headaches. The goal of chiropractic care is to treat muscle tension, injuries, and spinal misalignments, all of which can contribute to head pain.
In general, there are limited studies about the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment for types of headaches. But, a 2011 review of multiple clinical trials states that chiropractic care as migraine headache treatment may be as effective as certain types of medications including topiramate (Topamax) and propranolol (Inderal).
Chiropractic Treatments for Headache Relief
Individualized chiropractic headache treatment will depend on the severity and type of headache as well as other symptoms accompanying the headache (such as neck pain).
When you think of chiropractic care, you’re probably thinking of spinal manipulation. Spinal manipulation is a type of treatment characterized by a chiropractor applying controlled force to the back and neck in order to realign the spine. Chiropractic adjustments can help reduce inflammation and pressure on nerves and muscles which may be contributing to frequent headaches.
Myofascial release – also known as trigger point therapy – can provide relief from a migraine, a tension-type headache, or a cervicogenic headache. Myofascial release is based on the idea that certain types of pains originate from various “trigger points” in the body. This can definitely be true for certain types of headaches, especially those that occur along with back and neck pain. A 2019 study even states that 75% of migraine sufferers also deal with neck pain and other musculoskeletal issues. Therefore, a treatment that focuses on relaxing and stretching these tissues can possibly relieve migraine pain.
During myofascial release, Dr. Huebner will gently stretch and massage the neck and back to relieve muscle tension. As a result, the pain from tension headaches, cervicogenic headaches, and even migraines may improve or disappear entirely.
If your headaches tend to be triggered by stress, Dr. Huebner may recommend relaxation techniques for you to practice in between each chiropractic adjustment. Different techniques work for different people, but many people can effectively manage stress by:
- Taking time for meditation, prayer, and/or deep breathing.
- Practicing yoga and tai chi for breathing, exercising, and stretching.
- Doing any kind of exercise that feels good to you, whether that be walking, running, or lifting weights.
- Journaling your thoughts and emotions daily.
- Seeing a therapist or psychiatrist.
- Cuddling with pets or a partner.
- Asking for help from friends and family members.
- Balancing work and play.
Unfortunately, our lives will never be 100% stress-free. That’s why it’s so important to implement several stress management techniques into your daily routine. Managing stress is crucial for overall good health as well as headache and migraine prevention.
Nutrition and Lifestyle
Chiropractic care is all about providing the body with what it needs to heal itself naturally. Aside from chiropractic adjustments and massages, this also means living a healthy lifestyle. If you’re not providing your body with the nutrients and fuel it needs, you’re going to have all sorts of issues, aches, and pains.
What constitutes a “healthy diet” is highly individualized and controversial in this day and age. What works for one person may not work for another. But focusing on eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, protein, fiber, fat, and carbs is a great place to start for most people. Depending on your specific health concerns and headache type, Dr. Huebner may recommend certain foods or diets. He may also recommend certain types of dietary supplements – such as B vitamins, magnesium, and vitamin D – all of which can provide headache relief over time.
Other lifestyle factors that may contribute to headaches include dehydration, teeth grinding and clenching, excessive caffeine intake, excessive alcohol intake, smoking, and poor posture. So Dr. Huebner may also recommend increasing your water intake, cutting your caffeine or alcohol intake, quitting nicotine, wearing night guards for teeth grinding, and improving your posture.