How Can A Chiropractor Help With Headaches?
Why do headaches occur?
Almost everyone gets a headache at some time or another, but severe or recurring headaches are a real problem for a significant portion of our population. Significant headache symptoms are present in 45% of adults. These symptoms often cause loss of activity from work or family duties. Headache pain is so common, it is easy to think that "it's normal to get headaches".
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Headache pain is a signal from your body that something is wrong. Headaches can be caused by problems of your teeth, jaw, neck or other structures. Chiropractors are especially skilled in determining the cause and treatment of these headaches.
Types of headaches
The most common type of headache is called a muscle tension headache. As the name suggests, this headache is caused by unusual reaction of muscles of the neck, scalp or head. Problems with the alignment of the joints of the neck is an especially common cause of headache pain. The second major type is called migraine headache, which has additional symptoms due to constriction of blood vessels to the head.
Muscle tension headache - Often described as a dull, tight pain around the scalp or neck. The headache pain is often described as "vice-like", or "like a tight band" around the head. For some patients, periodic headaches can evolve into a nearly constant headache.
Migraine headache - Typically more severe than a tension headache, often affecting one side of the head. There are sometimes symptoms of visual disruption, nausea, sensitivity to light. Classic migraine often adds a pre-headache period of prodrome or aura, when the patient can feel the headache about to start.
Cluster headache - This type of headache is usually found in men, often described "like an ice-pick" and is often located over one side of the forehead. It is typically very intense for 10-120 minutes.
Can I just take a pill? George Washington died from "treatment" for his headaches. Bloodletting was a popular [but ineffective] remedy for headache at the time. Waking with severe headache one morning, Washington was bled by his doctors four different times that day, and died that evening.
Nowadays, we know that many commonly used treatments for headache also carry significant risk. For example, aspirin will erode the lining of the stomach, while frequent use of Tylenol [acetaminophen] is known to double the risk of kidney failure. Most non-prescription pain relievers have labels which warn against use for more than 10 days in a row, because of these side effects.
Unfortunately, "conventional" treatment for headaches have had poor results. Headache sufferers are often frustrated when "stress" is blamed for the cause of their headaches. Many headache sufferers simply try to cover up headache pain with more and different pain relievers. These medications quickly lose their effectiveness, and pose real damage to liver and kidney function with repeated use (more than one Tylenol per day)
Chiropractors find that headaches are often caused by mechanical problems of the neck joints, muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues. These problems often respond well to adjustments of the neck, resulting in improved neck function. Special attention is paid to the upper neck joints directly under the skull, as shown in the x-ray below.
Many people have most of the necessary ingredients for a headache; poor posture, overwork, pre-existing neck or jaw problems and other factors. "Triggers" are often responsible for starting the headache. This is not to say that these triggers are the cause of the headaches but are simply the "last straw". Some people are especially sensitive to certain triggers, and should seek to avoid them.
Common "Triggers" of Headaches
Substances: Chocolate, Red Wine, Caffeine, MSG, Yeast Breads, Sausage, Cured Meats, Tomatoes, Aged Cheese
Behaviors: Too much sleep, Too little sleep, Excessive exercise, Skipping meals
Environmental Factors: Bright lights, Loud noises, Strong odors, Emotional stress
One of the most common causes of the neck problems which can lead to future headache is the automobile accident. Surprisingly, low speed crashes [25 mph or less] cause more neck damage than high speed crashes. In low speed crashes the neck takes the brunt of the force, while in higher speed crashes, the vehicle crumples to absorb force. Therefore, we recommend a thorough check-up after even a minor motor vehicle accident injury, especially if there are neck or headache symptoms.
In the past few years, there has been extensive research on pain-producing structures in the neck as a cause of headache. These are called cervicogenic headache. These pain-producing structures can include the neck joints, discs, muscles, ligaments and protective linings of the brain. Chiropractic treatment has been shown to be very effective for these conditions.
If headaches are complicating your life, see Drs. Jason & Danella Whittaker at Family First Chiropractic for a complete examination and diagnosis of your headache problem.