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There are over 150 classifications and etiologies of headaches according to the International Headache Society. While there are many different causes and triggers, there is no such thing as a "normal headache." If you suffer from headaches, you’re not alone. Primary headaches (migraines, tension, cervicogenic, cluster headaches) are one of the most common ailments-occurring in 16% of the general population. What do you do when you suffer from a headaches? Grit your teeth and carry on? Lie down? Take a pill and hope the pain goes away?There can be a better alternative.
Research shows that spinal manipulation – one of the primary treatments provided by doctors of chiropractic – is an effective treatment option for certain types of headaches.
Classifications of Headaches:
Symptoms: The severity of pain can go from mild and intermittent to episodes of debilitating throbbing, unrelenting agony, as well as nausea. Some headaches are occasional, some are frequent, some are dull and throbbing, and some cause debilitating pain and nausea.
Nearly 95% of all headaches are primary headaches, meaning that these types of headaches are not caused by disease, the headache itself is the primary concern. These types are tension/cervicogenic, migraine, or cluster headaches.
Migraines: Migraines can be precipitated by an aura and have a prodomal phase. Often patients feel it "coming on" with light and sound sensitivity. This type of headache is felt as throbbing, pulsating and can concentrate at the base of the neck and behind the eyes. Migraines are associated with nausea and vomiting in some cases. They are more likely in females with a family history. Associated with food triggers including cheeses, chocolates and certain kinds of alcohol.
Tension & Cervicogenic: The greatest majority of primary headaches are associated with muscle tension in the neck. Today, Americans engage in more sedentary activities than in the past, and more hours are spent in one fixed position or posture (such as sitting in front of a computer). This can increase joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back and scalp, causing your head to ache.
Cluster: Cluster headaches are much more common in men. They are often felt around the eyes or temporal regions. Before the headache symptoms, patients often get congestion, facial sweating and red eyes. These can last 15-180 minutes and felt as sharp and stabbing pain. Alcohol, adequate sleep, changes in barometic pressure and seasonal changes all have an effect on cluster headaches.
Doctors of chiropractic undergo extensive training to help their patients in many ways beyond just treatment for low-back pain. They know how tension in the spine relates to problems in other parts of the body, and they can take steps to relieve those problems.
What Can a Doctor of Chiropractic Do? Your doctor of chiropractic may do one or more of the following if you suffer from a primary headache:
Perform spinal manipulation or chiropractic adjustments to improve spinal function and alleviate the stress on your system.
Provide nutritional advice, recommending a change in diet and supplementation.
Offer advice on posture, ergonomics (work postures), exercises and relaxation techniques to relieve the recurring joint irritation and tension in the muscles of the neck and upper back.
What Can You Do?
Headaches have many causes, or “triggers.” These may include foods, environmental stimuli (noises, lights, stress, etc.) and/or behaviors (insomnia, excessive exercise, blood sugar changes, etc). The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) offers the following suggestions to prevent headaches:
If you spend a large amount of time in one fixed position, such as in front of a computer, on a sewing machine, typing or reading, 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 primary headaches. However, if you are prone to dull, throbbing headaches, avoid heavy exercise. Engage in such activities as walking and low-impact aerobics.
Avoid teeth clenching. The upper teeth should never touch the lowers, except when swallowing. This results in stress at the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) – the two joints that connect your jaw to your skull – leading to TMJ irritation and a form of tension headaches.
Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to help avoid dehydration, which can lead to headaches.
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.
A 2011 JMPT study found that chiropractic care, including spinal manipulation, improves migraine and cervicogenic headaches.
Some recent studies have shown that patients suffering from chronic headaches and migraines may benefit more from long-term chiropractic care than drug therapy alone.
For headaches that originate in the cervical, or neck, area, chiropractic treatment, such as spinal manipulation, has been shown to be quite effective.
The results of this study support previous results showing that some people report significant improvement in migraines after chiropractic SMT.
A 2001 Duke University study, for example, found that spinal manipulation provided relief for patients with headaches that originate in the neck, and resulted in fewer side effects than medication. Researchers in that study concluded that such treatments as relaxation training, thermal biofeedback combined with relaxation training, electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and to a lesser degree, acupuncture, are all modestly effective in treating migraine headaches.
Close to 15 percent of people who visit a chiropractor do so to seek relief for pain from chronic headaches or migraines, according to the American Chiropractic Association.