Headaches & Migraines

Chronic Headaches and Migraines

While there are over 150 classifications and etiologies of headaches, there is no such thing as a "normal headache." There are many different causes and triggers, which contributes to the frustrations individuals can experience when trying to find the cause and treatment options for their headaches. If you suffer from headaches, you’re not alone.

Nearly 95% of all headaches are primary headaches; meaning that these are types of headaches that are not caused by a disease. The headache itself is the primary concern. These types of headaches are tension (cervicogenic), migraine or cluster headaches. 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 (the chiropractic adjustment) is an effective treatment for certain types of headaches.

Symptoms can vary between individuals for types of headaches. The severity of pain can be anywhere from mild to intermittent to episodes of debilitating, throbbing, unrelenting agony with nausea. Some headaches are frequent, some are dull and throbbing and some can cause debilitating pain and nausea.


Migraines can be characterized by a precipitating aura and have a prodromal phase. Often patients can feel it coming on with light and sound sensitivities. This type of headache is felt as a throbbing, pulsating pain that can be concentrated at the base of the neck and behind the yets as well. Migraines are associated with nausea and vomitting in some cases. They are most likely in females with a family history. There are many triggers including cheeses, chocolate and certain types of alcohol. There are no two cases that are indentical, so care must be individualized.

Tension Headaches

Also known as "cervicogenic" (coming from the neck) headahces, this is the most common kind of primary headache. They are largely 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. This can increase joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back and scalp--manifesting as a headache. This is the of headache that is most alleviated by a chiropractic adjustment.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are more typical in men. They are often felt around the eyes or temporal region. Before the patient gets the headache symptoms, they are often congested and have facial sweating and red eyes. These intense headaches can last any from 15-180 mintues and are felt as very sharp and stabbing pain. Triggers for cluster headaches include alcohol, sleep irregulation, changes in barometric pressure and seasonal changes.

Can a Chiropractor Help with Your Headaches?

DCs (doctors of chiropractic) undergo extensive training to help their patients in many ways beyond just treatment for lower back pain. They know pressure on the spinal nerves correlate with many pain patterns and neurological conditions. Your chiropractor may do one or more of the following if you suffer from a primary headaches:

  • Chiropractic adjustment (spinal manipulation) to improve the health of the spinal joints and decrease pressure on the nervous system.
  • Passive therapy modalities to reduce tension in the muscular system.
  • Acupuncture
  • Nutritional advice
  • Advice on posture and ergonomics

What Can You Do?

Headaches have many causes or triggers. These include foods, environmental stimuli and behaviors (insomnia, excessive exercise, blood sugar changes.) The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) offers the following suggestions to prevent headaches:

  • Stretch every 30 minutes-one hour if you spend a large amount of time in one fixed position, such as in front of a computer, typing or reading. The stretches should take your head and neck through a comfortable range of motion.
  • Low impact exercises may help relieve the pain associated with primary headaches. However, if you are prone to dull, throbbing headaches, then avoid heavy exericse. 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 tow joints that connect your jaw to your skull-leading to TMJ irritation and a form of tension headaches.
  • Drink at least eight 8 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 therapies 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 improvements in migraines after chiropractic care.
  • 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.

    Rasmussen BK, Jensen R, Schroll M, Olesen J. Epidemiology of headache in a general population — a prevalence study. J Clin Epide- miol 1991;44:1147–57.

  • Bryans R, Descarreaux M, Duranleau M, et al. Evidence based guidelines for the chiropractic treatment of adults with neck pain. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2014; 37: 42-63.
  • Bryans R, Descarreaux M, Duranleau M, et al. Evidence based guidelines for the chiropractic treatment of adults with headache. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2011; 34: 274-89.

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