Can Chiropractic Care Treat Headaches?

Mar 8, 2020Blog Post, Chiropractic


Right after the 54th edition of the Super Bowl, the final championship game of the National Football Association, you can be sure that many players will seek chiropractic care as part of their recovery efforts before preseason training begins a few months later. In 2020, all 32 NFL teams play between 16 to 17 games during the regular season, and they all have chiropractors as part of their medical staff. Most NFL players seek chiropractic treatment for lower back and neck pain issues, but a 2002 survey revealed that 8% of professional football players ask their chiropractors to help them deal with headaches.

NFL Hall of Fame inductees such as Terrell Davis was able to achieve sports stardom even with a high incidence of migraine headaches, and they often credit their chiropractors with helping them get through cephalalgia episodes caused by various factors not necessarily related to their chosen sports career.

Professional athletes are not the only ones seeking chiropractic care for headaches, but in terms of the overall segment of patients who can benefit from visits to the chiropractor for this condition, the ratio is about the same: between 8% and 10%. Some people who live with migraines may be able to get relief through chiropractic treatment, but this is largely symptomatic because we cannot ignore that migraines are often caused by vascular issues; what can be treated are some of the triggers. With regard to tension and cervicogenic headaches, however, there are various ways chiropractors can help.

Understanding Headaches

In the 21st century, migraines are still considered to be somewhat of a challenge to the medical community. Their vascular mechanism is known, which helps with treatment, but their causes and triggers are multifaceted. A full cure for migraines remains elusive, but quite a few of their stress factors that result in triggers have been identified. For patients who live with this cerebrovascular condition, becoming stressed out is a ticket towards a cephalalgia episode that may feature sensitivity to noise, bright lights, and certain smells.

Tension headaches are more typical than migraines; they are the kind that makes patients feel like a painful rubber band is stretching their cranium. Cervicogenic headaches are of a more anatomical nature because they start in the neck and usually travel upwards and around to the facial area. Both cervicogenic and tension headaches are more likely to be alleviated with chiropractic treatment, but some patients who live with migraines have also reported relief after visiting chiropractors; this is largely related to stress relief and has a similar effect as yoga in terms of helping patients achieve relaxation and avoid stress triggers.

When Patients Seek Chiropractic Care for Headaches

Some family doctors will recommend chiropractic treatment to patients who report headaches along with lower back or neck pain. Other patients will seek this treatment on their own because they feel anatomical discomfort. Those who suffer from migraines will not visit the chiropractor as their very first option, but they may do so after feeling that musculoskeletal issues are triggering intense headache episodes.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, as many as 14% of patients will seek this treatment if their main complaint is related to headaches. Some of these patients will arrive at the chiropractor’s office on a recommendation, but most of them will do so when they feel that their backs and necks could be causing their headaches, and they are often right about this self-assessment.

How Chiropractic Care Can Help With Headaches

Aside from the evaluation and assessment, the treatment methods that chiropractors may apply include the following:

  • Soft Tissue Therapy: This is a highly focused clinical massage that aims to reduce the tensile stress of soft tissue injuries that may be triggering headaches.
  • Spinal Alignment: Getting your spine where it should be in relation to connective tissue and nerve clusters can reduce the frequency and intensity of headaches.
  • Rehabilitation: If your headaches started after a car accident or an injury, reconditioning your musculoskeletal system could make your headaches go away. This may include stretching exercises that you would do on your own as part of physical therapy.
  • Ultrasound and Electric Muscle Stimulation: Some chiropractors include these advanced methods to complement their manipulation and soft tissue therapies.

Whereas visits to your family doctor or acute care clinic will likely result in the prescription of pain medication for your headaches, keep in mind that this is a largely symptomatic solution that does not address the root causes like chiropractic treatment can do for some patients.

What You Can Expect When Visiting a Chiropractic Clinic

The chiropractor will start with subjective and objective observations before an assessment or diagnosis can be reached. This will be very similar to the process of visiting a doctor’s office or even a dental clinic. If your health records of treatment for headaches are elsewhere, the chiropractor may arrange to obtain them. You can also expect x-ray imaging to be ordered, and this may be done at the clinic or at a radiology facility.

One of the goals of chiropractic care is determining if the cephalalgia condition is limited to the vascular system; as this is often the case with migraines, the next step will be to evaluate if the episodes are being triggered by subluxation or spinal misalignment, which can certainly be treated by chiropractors. As for cervicogenic headaches, those typically accompanied by neck pain, chiropractic treatment is often helpful.

The Bottom Line of Chiropractic Care for Headaches

Many physicians will tell you that regularly taking prescription painkillers for headaches is not a good strategy for overall health. Even when you suffer from migraines, there may be other medications other than strong analgesics that can be prescribed to minimize triggers. As your intake of painkillers increases, there may be issues related to drug resistance and habit-forming behaviors, not to mention that your liver will be taking a toll by processing all those medications.

With chiropractic care, many patients may be able to sharply reduce their headaches by dealing with the underlying causes. This is a safe, natural, and holistic strategy that does not present the dangers of taking too many medications. For tension and cervicogenic headaches, chiropractic treatment is highly recommended, and it may also reduce some of the stress triggers that bring about or exacerbate migraines.

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