Can Chiropractic Heal My Headaches?
By Genevieve Cunningham
Headaches cause pain in more ways than one. They cause the obvious physical pain -- the pounding head, the tension, the discomfort that keeps you from focusing on your task. But they also cause pain in everyday life.
Headaches make it difficult to function. Difficult to work, difficult to sleep, even difficult to play and have a good time. Perhaps the most frustrating part about headaches is how difficult it can be to rid yourself of them. They tend to both linger and reoccur, making life with headaches a frustrating one indeed.
Are we doomed to have headache pain forever? Not if the chiropractor has anything to say about it.
Why Do We Have Headaches?
Before we can truly understand how to eliminate headaches, we have to understand why they occur in the first place. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes, headaches occur when nerve endings called nociceptors react to various triggers. They then send messages to the thalamus, which then sends a pain signal to the rest of your body. The triggers that cause this reaction can vary widely, but some of the most common triggers include:
- Strong smells
- Strong shifts in weather
- Poor diet and eating schedules
- Poor sleep
- Depression and anxiety
- Motion sickness
- Bright lights
These are only a few of the potential headache triggers that we might encounter. With a list this abundant, it’s easy to see why headaches are such a nuisance to so many.
What Kinds of Headaches Are There?
Believe it or not, there are more than 150 different types of headaches. These headaches are broken into two main categories: primary and secondary. A primary headache means the headache is the main problem. In other words, there isn’t an underlying health condition. Primary headaches are fairly well known:
- Migraine headaches - Migraines are the most common form of headaches. They often manifest as pain -- often described as a throbbing pain -- on one side of the head lasting anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Those suffering a migraine may also experience nausea and sensitivity to light.
- Tension headaches - Tension headaches often occur due to tense neck and scalp muscles. These headaches rarely attack children, but are found more frequently in older teenagers and adults. They are also more frequently reported in women. Common triggers include stress, poor posture, and eye strain. The pain is often described as a band squeezing all the way around the head.
- Cluster headaches - Cluster headaches are much more rare than either migraines or tension headaches. These headaches occur in groups, also called clusters. The attacks generally last a few hours and repeat every day for up to weeks at a time. Common triggers include alcohol or drug use, heat, a change in altitude, and certain foods. The pain is usually described as severe and often occurs on one side of the head behind one eye.
- Exertional headaches - Exertion headaches are caused by physical exertion. Exercise, heavy lifting, coughing, and sneezing are just a few of the activities that may bring these headaches to life. In many instances, doctors will rule out more serious causes before diagnosing this kind of pain as an exertion headache.
Secondary headaches are rare, and many times, much more serious. In these types of headaches, the pain is caused by an underlying condition. Sinus headaches are a good example of a harmless secondary headache. These headaches are caused by a sinus infection or sinus pressure in the face and head.
More serious secondary headaches might be caused by hypertension, disorders of the blood vessels, brain tumors, infections of the head and neck, and more. If headaches occur suddenly and remain persistent, see your healthcare professional for an official diagnosis.
What Are Various Forms of Headache Relief?
Anyone who suffers regularly from headaches knows that relief is the ultimate goal. Sometimes that’s easily accomplished, and other times not. For minor headaches, there are multiple forms of relief that might be effective.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers - Pain relievers that can be bought over the counter, things such as Tylenol and Ibuprofen, can help with most mild headaches. The pain will be relieved temporarily, which is often long enough for the headache to pass.
- Rest - Many times, lying down in a quiet, dark room can help ease headaches. This gets rid of any triggering stimuli and gives your brain and body a chance to relax.
- Hot or cold compress - Hot or cold compresses to the back of the neck can relieve some headaches. If your headache is caused by tension or tight muscles, heat might be best. Other headaches may prefer cold. The difference will really boil down to individual headaches and individual preference.
- Massage - Certain kinds of massage, especially to the head and neck, can help reduce the pain of a headache in action. Regular massages may actually prevent headaches associated with tension.
- Hydration - When you’re dehydrated, the brain and muscles contract. This can cause a headache, among other physical discomforts. Staying properly hydrated can go a long way in both treating and preventing these kinds of headaches.
Is Chiropractic Effective Against Headaches?
The aforementioned remedies are common. They are our go-to methods for finding relief in a pinch. However, when we want something more effective, something more focused on the long-term aspect of comfort and health, we have to look outside of the ordinary. And as it turns out, the best place to look may be at your local chiropractor’s office. According to the Canadian Chiropractic Association, chiropractic care may help in the treatment of certain types of headaches, as well as be an effective way to decrease the frequency and intensity of migraines.
The majority of primary headaches are associated with some sort of tension in the muscles around the head and neck. Chiropractors may use spinal manipulation to ease this tension, as well as properly align the vertebrae of the spine and improve the function of the spine and central nervous system. Along with regular chiropractic adjustments, the chiropractor may also suggest other lifestyle changes to help you avoid headache triggers. These lifestyle tips may look like:
- Eating a well balanced diet
- Staying hydrated
- Exercising regularly
- Practicing good posture
- Avoiding excessive stress
- Getting adequate sleep on a regular basis
The most important part of any treatment plan, whether it’s chiropractic care or something else, is to show up and follow the advice you’re given. Chiropractors can help you as much as you’re willing to help yourself.
Can Chiropractic Heal My Headaches?
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the need for a cure. We don’t want to manage symptoms; we want them gone. Unfortunately, health doesn’t always work that way. Can chiropractic care heal your headaches? Chiropractors can’t and won’t guarantee that your headache will never come back. They will help you manage headaches as they come along; with regular treatments, they may even be able to help prevent them. You’ll need a plan -- a long-term healthcare plan -- to make the biggest impact. If you’re suffering from headaches, get help. See the chiropractor, follow the plan, and finally get relief from the pain in your head and the pain it causes in your life.
The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this page are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this post is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics, including but not limited to the benefits of chiropractic care, exercise and nutrition. It is not intended to provide or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your chiropractor, physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this page.