Headaches are one of the most common types of pain that people experience on a regular basis. Researchers estimate that nine out of ten Americans suffer from headache pain at some point, helping to put the sales of pain medication through the roof.
Both the frequency and severity of headaches vary greatly from individual to individual. They range from occasional to near-constant and from mild to throbbing. Some are bad enough to cause nausea and become debilitating, keeping the sufferer from being able to work and enjoy leisure activities. Although painkillers are usually the first resort for those suffering from a headache, chiropractic care can help lessen both the incidence and severity of this condition.
The largest percentage of headaches (approximately 95%) fall into a category referred to as “primary headaches”. These are typically caused by tension in the muscles in the neck area or a misalignment (subluxation) of the neck vertebrae. A primary headache refers to the kind of headache that is not a symptom of some other underlying illness. According to Dr. George McClelland, a chiropractor in Virginia, “Today, Americans engage in more sedentary activities than they used to, and more hours are spent in one fixed position or posture. This can increase joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back and scalp, causing your head to ache.”
The root cause of headaches due to both tension and misalignment is nerve irritation. The nerve fibers at the base of the neck that connect with the spinal cord and brain become irritated due to muscle tension or to misaligned vertebrae pressing on the spinal cord. A study performed by researchers at the University of Maryland found that there was a link between tension in the muscles at the base of the neck and headache pain.
In a study conducted by the New Zealand government, the majority of those suffering recurrent headaches from spinal misalignment found that their headaches were relieved by chiropractic manipulation, and many were found to still be pain-free in the two-year follow-up. A study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that spinal manipulation such as that used by chiropractors is more effective and longer-lasting for treating tension headaches than the use of commonly prescribed pain medication.
Your chiropractor can perform a thorough examination to identify the cause of your headache pain. Depending on your specific circumstances, he or she may then perform a chiropractic adjustment to take the pressure off irritated nerves, easing headache pain. Your chiropractor can also offer recommendations as to diet, exercise and ergonomics, along with proper posture and relaxation techniques to keep neck tension to a minimum.
Dr. McLelland says, “Doctors of chiropractic undergo extensive training to help their patients in many ways – not just back pain. They know how tension in the spine relates to problems in other parts of the body, and they can take steps to relieve those problems.”