Few conditions leave their victims as miserable and agitated as headaches. There are many causes of headaches including stress, odors, bright lights, noise, fatigue, certain foods, hormonal shifts, allergies, as well as genetic predisposition. With all the possible causes of headaches, it’s not surprising many people seek help from many different approaches such as conventional medical therapies like pharmaceuticals and injections. Others prefer a non-drug treatment approach such as chiropractic, massage therapy, acupuncture, and nutritional counseling.
Usually, there is not one specific cause of headaches so treatment can focus on various areas. For example, the muscles that attach to the base of the skull in the neck and upper back are often very short and tight, resulting in pressure or a squeezing effect on the surrounding nerves and blood vessels—resulting in headaches. Chiropractic treatment includes methods aimed at reducing the tightness found in the joints and muscles. One of these approaches is called spinal manipulation or “adjustments” where the joints in the neck are moved to restore motion and reduce joint fixations. By relaxing the muscles and tension between the joints, the nerves in the neck are less pressured which, in turn, can reduce headaches. The top three nerves that exit the upper neck travel into the head and are often the culprit behind the onset of headaches. The second nerve from the top is the one responsible for causing radiating pain over the top of the skull which communicates with other nerves sometimes causing the pain behind the eye felt by some headache sufferers.
Another chiropractic approach in the management of headaches includes soft tissue therapy where trigger points found in tight muscles are addressed through various forms of massage and mobilization methods. Manual traction of the head and neck can also be highly effective in reducing the tension found in patients with headaches. Exercises the patient can perform on his or her own can also be beneficial. Some of these, such as range of motion exercises with and without resistance (example: pushing your head into your hand during neck movements) and posture re-training (chin tucks – reducing the forward head position), help address the limited motion problems of the neck. Cervical (neck) traction performed by placing a rolled up towel placed behind the neck while lying on the back so that the head can hang off the side of the bed can also be very helpful.
Other treatment approaches that chiropractors utilize include stress management (such as biofeedback, relaxation instructions, meditation, visualization, and others), diet modifications (as certain foods can trigger headaches), nutritional supplementation (such as fish oil, Vit. D, feverfew and others), and sleep restoration.