There are many different types of headaches with many different causes. Chiropractors have been trained to diagnose these.
Most common headaches are those with mechanical causes. Often this cause is found in and around the neck and originates either from muscles, the spine or both. Sometimes it can even be related to the jaw and its muscles. The muscles involved can cause pain not only locally, but also give pain in an area further away. This is known as referred pain and, when the muscle tender points are located near the head, can give headaches.
Chiropractic specializes in reducing the tension that exists in some muscles and restore normal motion to the spine itself, hereby reducing stresses on the bones, joints and ligaments which can cause headaches. Thus chiropractors are in an excellent position to tackle mechanical headaches.
Another headache type that we see commonly is the migraine. Much research has been done to investigate the cause of this particularly complicated type of headache. Research has shown that the pain is caused by a combination of neurological and blood vessel reactions1. However, there are many different triggers for this headache. These relate to the food we eat, such as dark chocolate and red wine, and the stresses we encounter, both mentally and physically.
As chiropractors are trained to decrease the tension in and around the head and neck, the reduction of this tension can limit both the severity and frequency of migraine attacks; thus helping to prevent migraines.
Possible Chiropractic Treatment Approaches for headaches and migraines
Specific Spinal manipulation: Sometimes called spinal adjusting, spinal manipulation is an active, hands-on care that returns motion to the spine. With a return of normal spinal mechanics, muscles relax and pain is resolved. In specific spinal manipulation, the chiropractor identifies the joints that are restricted or show abnormal motion. He or she then returns motion to the joint with a gentle thrusting technique.
Flexion Distraction technique: This is a gentle, non-thrusting type of spinal manipulation. This treatment is still hands-on, utilising a specialised table to assist the chiropractor. It’s especially useful in treating bulging discs and ruptured (herniated) discs.
Instrument-assisted manipulation: This is another non-thrusting technique. Using a hand-held instrument, the chiropractor can apply force without thrusting into the spine. This is especially appropriate in older patients with degenerative joint syndrome and/or osteoporosis.
To treat your back pain, the chiropractor may also use various manual therapies. These are used to treat soft tissue (ligaments and muscles, for example) injuries. Some possible manual therapies are:
Trigger point therapy: The chiropractor identifies specific hypertonic (tight), painful points on a muscle. Then applies direct pressure (using the fingers) on these points to relieve the tension.
Dry Needling (western Acupuncture): Myofascial trigger point dry needling is a treatment to restore proper function to abnormally behaving muscles. These muscles become painful with nodules also called knots and tight bands of muscle that can be painful locally or send pain signals to other locations. The muscles, which contain these abnormal areas are “locked” and cannot function normally, which causes restriction of movement and chronic pain. This treatment allows the muscle contracture to release to its normal length and the circulation to improve.
Manual joint stretching and resistance techniques
Therapeutic massage: To reinforce the improved joint mechanics (return of normal spinal motion), your chiropractor will prescribe therapeutic exercises.
1. Pietrobon, D., & Moskowitz, M. A. (2013). Pathophysiology of migraine. Annual review of physiology, 75, 365-391.