Headaches and Chiropractic

If you have a headache, you’re not alone. Nine out of 10 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 and adjustments like the ones provided by Dr. Anton Pyatetsky DC  – one of the primary treatments provided by doctors of chiropractic – may be an effective treatment option for tension headaches and headaches that originate in the neck. A 2014 report in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT) found that interventions commonly used in chiropractic care improved outcomes for the treatment of acute and chronic neck pain and increased benefit was shown in several instances where a multimodal approach to neck pain had been used. Also, a 2011 JMPT study found that chiropractic care, including spinal manipulation, improves migraine and cervicogenic headaches.  Call Pyatetsky Family Chiropractic if you are suffering from any of the following types of headaches.

Chiropractic Research for Treatment of Headaches

Headaches can range from annoying to debilitating and their cause can be benign or life threatening. The majority of headaches are benign and are caused by dehydration, muscle spasms, stress or vertebral misalignment.

It is important to know what type of headache you are suffering from prior to prescribing a type of treatment. If you are suffering from a dehydration headache, all the aspirin in the world won’t decrease your pain. Headaches can also be caused by serious conditions such as tumors; therefore you need to speak with a health care practitioner if your headaches last longer than a week.

The following is a brief description of the most common types of headache classifications.

Tension Headaches:

Description: Tension type headaches are the most common, affecting upwards of 75% of all headache sufferers. As many as 90% of adults have had tension–type headaches.

Tension–type headaches usually involve a steady ache, rather than a throbbing one, are described as a feeling of pressure or tightening, may last minutes to days, affect both sides of the head, and do not worsen with routine physical activity. It may also be accompanied by photophobia or phonophobia (hypersensitivity to light and noise, respectively.). Nausea is usually absent. Some people get tension–type (and migraine) headaches in response to stressful events. Tension–type headaches may also be chronic, occurring frequently or daily. Psychological factors have been overemphasized as causes of headaches.

Rebound Headache: Rebound headache may occur among people with tension–type headaches, as well as in those with migraines. It appears to be the result of taking prescription or nonprescription pain relievers daily or almost every day, contrary to directions on the package label. If prescription or nonprescription pain relievers are overused, headache may “rebound” as the last dose wears off, leading one to take more and more pills.

Treatment: Chiropractic treatment has been shown to provide relief to patients who suffer from tension and rebound headaches. A randomized controlled trial compared six weeks of spinal manipulative treatment of tension-type headache by chiropractors to six weeks of medical treatment with amitriptyline, a medication often prescribed for the treatment of severe tension headache pain. Researchers found that chiropractic patients experienced fewer side effects (82.1%) and while both were effective during the treatment phase of the study, only the chiropractic patients continued to report fewer headaches when treatment ended.

Stress relief is an important component in the treatment of tension headaches. Simple meditation techniques have been shown to decrease stress can help to prevent tension headaches.

Cervicogenic Headaches:

Description: Cervicogenic headache originates from disorders of the neck and is recognized as a referred pain in the head. Primary sensory afferents from the cervical nerve roots C1–C3 converge with afferents from the occiput and trigeminal afferents on the same second order neuron in the upper cervical spine. Consequently, the anatomical structures innervated by the cervical roots C1–C3 are potential sources of cervicogenic headache.

Cervical headache is often precipitated by neck movement and/or sustained awkward head positioning (such as painting the ceiling, or washing the floor) and can reproduced with pressure over the upper cervical or occipital region on the symptomatic side. It is often accompanied by decreased range of motion in the neck, neck, shoulder, or arm pain of a rather vague nature or, occasionally, arm pain of a shooting nature.

Treatment: Because these types of headaches are precipitated by problems in the joints of the neck it is important to see a chiropractor for treatment of the headaches. These headaches are common following an injury like motor vehicle accident or a blow to the head but can also be caused by poor posture and repetitive stress.  Chiropractors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of joint problems of the spine.  The chiropractor will also give you exercises and stretches to help prevent this condition from returning.

Migraine Headaches

Description: Migraine headaches are less common in tension–type headaches. Nevertheless, migraines afflict 25 to 30 million people in the United States. As many as 6% of all men, and up to 18% of all women experience a migraine headache at some time in their life.

Among the most distinguishing features is the potential disability accompanying the headache pain of a migraine: migraines may last 4-72 hours, are typically unilateral (60% of reported cases), throbbing, of moderate to severe intensity, and are aggravated by routine physical activity.

Nausea, with or without vomiting, and/or sensitivity to light and sound often accompany migraines.  An “aura” may occur before head pain begins–– involving a disturbance in vision, and/or an experience of brightly colored or blinking lights in a pattern that moves across the field of vision. About one in five migraine sufferers experiences an aura.

Usually, migraine attacks are occasional, or sometimes as often as once or twice a week, but rarely occur daily.

Treatment: In the treatment of migraine headaches is important to determine the triggers that cause these headaches.

For some people food is a trigger. The most common known food triggers are the four C’s; cheese, chocolate, caffeine and citric acid. Citric acid is a preservative that is found in a number of different foods and has been shown to be a trigger for migraine headaches. It is important to remember that everyone’s triggers may differ and it is important to determine what your own individual triggers. Using a food journal can be an effective way of tracking headache symptoms and relating them to food triggers.

Stress has also been shown to be a trigger for these headaches. Meditation has been shown to be beneficial in decreasing the stress that can trigger these headaches. For more information on meditation, see the treatment section under tension headaches.

Food Allergy Headaches:

Description: Food Allergy headaches are being diagnosed at an increasing rate. There are two reasons why we have seen this increase in diagnosis. First, there is a better understanding of how foods affect our bodies. For years we have know that the body can react unfavorably to foods such as peanuts and shellfish. Often these reactions can be harmful if not fatal. Due to the severe nature of these allergies, they have been studied extensively. Food allergy headaches have not been studied as thoroughly but recent research is showing a connection between food allergies and headaches.

Food allergens (the food fragments responsible for an allergic reaction) are proteins within the food that usually are not broken down by the heat of cooking or by stomach acids or enzymes that digest food. As a result, they survive to cross the gastrointestinal lining, enter the bloodstream, and go to target organs, causing allergic reactions throughout the body.

Treatment: The treatment of a food allergy headache involves removing the particular offending food. This can be very difficult in a society where we tend to eat meals that contain many different kinds and types of food. The gold standard for treatment of food allergies is the food elimination diet. This diet involves removing all foods from your diet except for a small number of foods that have been shown to be hypoallergenic.  Once your body has eliminated the allergens, which typically takes two-weeks, certain individual foods are reintroduced and symptoms are noted. Food allergies can also be tracked using a food diary. Unfortunately some foods may cause an immediate reaction while others may take hours or days to produce a reaction. This complicates the tracking of symptoms associated with different foods. There are also different blood tests available that measure how your body reacts to certain foods. These tests are provided by naturopaths and some chiropractors.

Cluster Headaches:

Description: Cluster headaches are relatively rare, affecting about 1% of the population. They are distinct from migraine and tension–type headaches. Most cluster headache sufferers are male –– about 85%.

Cluster headaches come in groups or clusters lasting weeks or month. The pain is extremely severe but the attack is brief, lasting no more than an hour or two. The pain centers around one eye, and this eye may be inflamed and watery. There may also be nasal congestion on the affected side of the face.

These “alarm clock” headaches may strike in the middle of the night, and often occur at about the same time each day during the course of a cluster. A history of heavy smoking and drinking is common, and alcohol often triggers attacks.