Just about everyone, at numerous points in their lives, experience headaches. If you’re reading this right now, chances are that you or someone you love is experiencing them.
The truth is that headaches can be difficult to manage because there are many different types of headaches and there are many factors that can contribute to or exacerbate them. Another problem is that it seems that most people who suffer from headaches only turn to pain medications for relief and, while these medications do offer pain relief, they are only masking the symptoms and in no way help to tackle the true cause behind these headaches you or your loved ones may be experiencing. This is a big deal because so many people suffer from headaches without knowing that there are other options available to us that can help fix the problem instead of pushing it back for a few hours and putting tons of physiological stress on our liver and digestive system.
One such alternative that provides a safe and natural method to managing headaches is chiropractic care, which is why in a moment we’re going to go over the different types of headaches and how chiropractic care can help in managing them.
Tension headaches are the most common form of headaches. It’s often described as tension or pressure that feels like a band that’s tightly wrapped around the head. Other characteristics of tension headaches include:
- Pain around the back of the head or neck
- Mild to moderate pain
- Pain that lasts for hours
- Dull, non-throbbing pain
- Can develop slowly
- Typically felt on both sides of the head.
Role of chiropractic care and tension headaches:
Tension headaches typically respond to over-the-counter medication, but abuse can affect the liver and digestive health without contributing to fixing the real cause. Because of this, many people are seeking natural alternatives to treating tension headaches, one of these being chiropractic care.
So how exactly does chiropractic help to alleviate tension headaches?
As mentioned above, tension headaches are caused by muscle tension and stress (which causes muscle tension). Muscles attach to bones, and so the muscles in the upper back and neck attach directly to different points in the cervical vertebrae and the base of the skull. When vertebrae in the neck misalign, they can pull the attached muscles with them and can cause pain, spasm, or in this case, tension headaches. By correcting these misalignments, chiropractors can release the tension placed on these taut muscle fibers. An adjustment also signals the brain for muscle tone relaxation which can then decrease or eliminate these tension headaches.
Migraine headaches are a severe form of headaches. They are believed to be neurovascularly driven, which means that it’s caused by a problem in the interaction between the nervous system and the vascular system. Another big influence to migraine headaches is hormonal balance, which is why it’s more prevalent in women compared to men after the age of puberty. Other characteristics associated with migraine headaches include:
- Light sensitivity
- Sound sensitivity
- Nausea or vomiting
- Moderate to severe pain
- Pain on one side of the face
- Preceded by an aura or flashing lights, approximately 30 minutes before the episode
- Duration of hours to days
Because this type of headache is associated with vascular changes, risk or aggravating factors can include:
- High-intensity exercise
- Inadequate sleep
- Diet (caffeine, chocolate, cheese, nuts, wine)
- Emotional stress
Role of chiropractic care and migraine headaches:
In order to understand the chiropractic’s role with migraines, we have to understand what’s going on during a migraine. The first thing to remember is that migraines are believed to be neurovascularly driven, not muscularly driven.
When it comes to the pain felt during a migraine, it is believed that the trigeminal nerve is highly involved. The trigeminal nerve is the cranial nerve that supplies pain, temperature, pressure and other sensations to your face, scalp and blood vessels in your brain. During a migraine your threshold for pain signaling is decreased, so that things that typically don’t cause pain (sneezing, bending forward, light or sound) now do.
Another mechanism that can occur is that the nervous system activates pathways that constrict blood vessels in the brain, which increases arterial pressure which then causes the migraine. This is why migraines can be described as a throbbing pain.
Chiropractic care can help with migraines because it optimizes the functioning of the nervous system and, by default, the vascular system. By removing pressure off nerves, the communication between the brain and the vascular system may no longer be impeded. This increases the possibility that the trigeminal nerve fires properly and that the blood vessels in the brain can constrict and dilate as needed.
This type of headache is typically severe. It’s characteristics are the following:
Cluster headaches involve bouts of excruciating pain that start abruptly primary headaches that start abruptly with bursts of excruciating pain behind an eye or a side of the head. They are more common in men compared to women. Associating factors include smoking and family history of cluster headaches.
Cluster headaches are described as sharp, burning, or piercing and they can cause the following symptoms:
- Pain behind an eye
- Severe pain
- Bouts of episodes occurring for days or weeks
- Runny nose
- Redness of the eye
- Pupil constriction
- Sweaty face
- Blocked nostrils
Role of chiropractic and cluster headaches
Similar to migraines, the cause behind cluster headaches is thought to be neurovascular, in which case removing interference going to the brain and vascular system can provide relief. Your chiropractor can also help identify triggering factors.
Managing headaches can be a difficult and frustrating process, but it doesn’t have to be! If you feel like you need help understanding your headaches, the triggers behind them and want to get started on stopping them, seek out a chiropractor in your area.