Do you suffer from headaches, or do you know someone who does? If you do, know that you are not alone. The head is actually the most common site of pain in the body. Headaches can range from a mild pain that comes and goes, through to constant intense pain that’s so bad you have to crawl into bed with a bucket in case you throw up!
Headaches, like any pain in your body, are a sign that something is not quite right. Your brain will create for you the sensation of pain if it thinks there is something wrong or if it thinks there is a potential problem. For example, your brain will give you a headache if you have taken too much medication – letting you know there is some chemical toxicity going on! And some headaches are a warning of lifethreatening illness. But for most people, headaches are not a sign of life-threatening illness and are more the consequence of lifestyle and daily behaviour. We know now, from a lot of neuroscience research studies, that when your spine is not moving properly, this changes the way your brain perceives what is going on in and around your body, the way it integrates other sensory information, and the way it controls your body.1-3 The movement of your spine is, in other words, very important for your brain to know where you are in space, and since you cannot see your spine with your eyes, your brain relies on the information it receives from the small muscles closest to your spine and skull. If the segments of your spine are not moving properly… what chiropractors call being subluxated… this may, for some people, manifest as headaches.
Others may experience back pain. It’s possible that problems in the spine may even lead to some babies experiencing colic or some kids may not be fully aware of their bladder at night and end up with bedwetting. Research has shown that when a chiropractor then gently adjusts these subluxations, it helps the brain to more accurately ‘see’ what is going on in and around the body. So, when you get adjusted by your chiropractor, if your spinal dysfunction was manifesting as headaches, these may improve. If your spinal dysfunction was manifesting as back pain, then this may get better. If it manifested as colic or bedwetting then these symptoms may improve, and so on and so on.
Chiropractic May Help
But what does the research say about chiropractic care and headaches? Researchers have reviewed all of the randomised controlled trials that have looked at the effects of chiropractic care or spinal manipulative therapy on headaches.4-6 In these studies, they have compared chiropractic care to sham care or other interventions.
The results show that chiropractic care does really help some people with headaches and migraines!
In one study, 7 the researchers looked at the effects of two months of chiropractic care in 127 people suffering from migraines. After two months, they found that the people in the study who received chiropractic care got better compared to the control group with all the migraine outcomes that they looked at. They actually found that for about 1 in 5 people, their migraines almost went away completely after two months of chiropractic care! And for half of the study participants, their migraine frequency significantly reduced. The results of this study suggest that a large number of migraine sufferers respond well to chiropractic care! We don’t know for sure who will respond well, and we don’t know how much of an influence the placebo effect has, but for some people, when they get under chiropractic care, their migraines may almost completely resolve within just a couple of months. In another study,8 80 patients with chronic headaches that were due to a problem in their neck, called cervicogenic headaches, received 8 weeks of chiropractic care and another similar group of 80 patients received 8 weeks of light massage. What they found in this study was that the patients receiving chiropractic care improved significantly compared to the control group that received massage. Pretty much all of the pain and disability scores they looked at were better in the chiropractic group. The chiropractic patients also had fewer headaches and took less medication by the end of the study. The chiropractic patients in this study were actually over 3 times more likely to have a significant improvement in their headache symptoms compared to the patients receiving light massage. These studies suggest that chiropractic care may really help some people suffering from different types of headaches. So, if you experience headaches, why don’t you consider chiropractic care and make sure your spine is functioning well so you can operate at your best!
Dr. Kelly Holt BSc, BSc(Chiro), PGDipHSc, PhD Dr. Heidi Haavik BSc(Physiol), BSc(Chiro) PhD
Disclaimer and References This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be professional advice of any kind. Haavik Research Limited encourages you to make your own health care decisions based on your own research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. 1. Uthaikhup S, Jull G, Sungkarat S, et al. The influence of neck pain on sensorimotor function in the elderly. Arch Gerontol Geriatr 2012;55(3):667-72. 2. Haavik H, Murphy B. The role of spinal manipulation in addressing disor-dered sensorimotor integration and altered motor control. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2012;22(5):768-76. 3. Treleaven J. Sensorimotor disturbances in neck disorders affecting postural stability, head and eye movement control. Man Ther 2008;13(1):2-11. 4. Bryans R, Descarreaux M, Duranleau M, et al. Evidence-based guidelines for the chiropractic treatment of adults with headache. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2011;34(5):274-89. 5. Bronfort G, Haas M, Evans R, et al. Effectiveness of manual therapies: the UK evidence report. Chiropr Osteopat 2010;18:3. 6. Millstine D, Chen CY, Bauer B. Complementary and integrative medicine in the management of headache. BMJ 2017;357. 7. Tuchin PJ, Pollard H, Bonello R. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Chiropractic Spinal Manipulative Therapy for Migrane. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2000;23(2):91-95. 8. Haas M, Spegman A, Peterson D, et al. Dose response and efficacy of spinal manipulation for chronic cervicogenic headache: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Spine J 2010;10(2):117-28