Chiropractic Care and the Headache Patient

According to a 2020 study, up to 1 in 5 new chiropractic patients list headaches as one of their chief reasons for seeking care. Let’s take a look at the features and characteristics that are often found in the chiropractic patient population…

A survey that included input from 224 adult patients with headaches as their chief complaint and 70 doctors of chiropractic revealed that 25% of patients who consult with a chiropractor concerning their headaches have headaches lasting longer than three months, known as chronic headaches, and 42% rate their headache pain as severe.

Based on International Classification of Headache Disorders criteria, 21% of these patients exhibited characteristics of migraine headaches, 17% likely had tension-type headaches, and a third experienced characteristics of two or more types of headaches. However, among the patients who rated their pain as severe, 62% had migraines and two-thirds had more than one type of headache.

A series of studies published in 2020 and 2021 compared multi-modal chiropractic care (ten treatments spread over 14 weeks) and enhanced usual care (medical treatment with migraine education literature) in the treatment of 61 adult women with episodic migraines. The patients in the chiropractic group experienced a near three-fold reduction in migraine days per month (2.9 days vs. 1 day).

Follow-up interviews with the participants in the chiropractic group on their perception of chiropractic care revealed three common themes: 1) over the course of treatment, participants became more aware of the role of muscle tension, pain, and posture in triggering a migraine; 2) participants revised their prior conceptions of chiropractic care beyond spinal manipulation; 3) participants viewed the chiropractor-patient relationship as essential and valuable for effective migraine management.

A study that included 150 patients with chronic tension-type headaches revealed that chiropractic care and the medication amitriptyline provided similar benefits during the treatment phase of the study. While three participants in the chiropractic treatment group reported neck soreness and stiffness, 82.1% of those in the group that took amitriptyline experienced side effects that included drowsiness, dry mouth, and weight gain. Of special note is that once treatment concluded, only the patients who received chiropractic care continued to experience reduced headache intensity and frequency while the participants in the medication group reverted to their initial headache intensity, frequency, and duration levels.

The findings from these and other studies support chiropractic care as an effective treatment option for patients with headaches, with few (if any) side effects and high patient satisfaction.

Dr. James Sheehan Dr. James Sheehan is an expert in the treatment of neck and back pain.

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