Do you get headaches? If so, you’re not alone. According to some estimates, 90 percent of Americans get at least one headache each year. And for many people the ﬁrst response is to reach for a pill. So it’s no surprise that Americans consume more than 50 billion pain relief tablets each year.
There are problems with using aspirin or other anti-inﬂammatory drugs to treat a headache: it treats the symptoms, not the cause. And when the cause of a headache is left untreated, it can lead to other, more debilitating problems. Also, aspirin is not for everybody. In some individuals, even one aspirin can lead to bleeding in the stomach for four days.
To understand how, let’s take a closer look at what causes the more common types of headache.
Headache and The Spine
The spine is made up of vertebrae: movable bones that support your body and head, and protect your spinal cord and the nerves that run from your spinal cord to your muscles, blood vessels and other structures.
Sometimes the vertebrae become misaligned. Instead of fitting together properly, they become slightly tilted or twisted. When this happens, they can irritate or disrupt spinal nerves. The body, in turn, may respond in a number of ways. Muscles may tighten or cramp. Blood vessels may narrow, reducing blood ﬂow.
These symptoms often begin in the neck and shoulder, but the effect cascades to the muscles and blood vessels of the scalp, face, and head. The result is the pain we call a headache.
A number of things can cause vertebrae to become misaligned. Poor posture is one. People who have jobs that require them to sit at computers or talk on phones for hours a day may develop a poor posture that can result in spinal misalignment. Injury or trauma can also cause vertebrae to become misaligned. And ﬁnally, there’s stress. Stress can cause neck and shoulder muscles to tense up and stay tensed. Over time, those tense muscles can pull vertebrae out of alignment.
While spinal misalignment is often at the root of headache, in other cases, diet may be the culprit. When people are allergic to certain foods or food additives, eating those foods can cause tissue inﬂammation. This can, in turn, set off a series of responses that culminate in headache.
How A Chiropractor Can Help
Chiropractors are trained to look for the causes of headaches. By addressing the reason you get headaches in the ﬁrst place, a chiropractor looks beyond masking the symptoms to restore your true balance and health. Your chiropractic exam begins with a review of your overall health, your headache symptoms and any other symptoms that may be related. The chiropractor will collect information to determine what causes your headache. You will be asked whether the pain is worse in the morning or evening, whether your headaches are brought on by stress, and whether you notice they come on after you’ve eaten certain foods. Your chiropractor will also examine your spine to look for misalignment. X-rays may be ordered to further diagnose your spinal health. Your chiropractor examination will begin by identifying what type of headache you have. Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. They typically begin as neck or shoulder tension that eventually radiates mm the head. They are often accompanied by a “tight feeling” or the feeling of pressure pushing forward. Tension headaches often build over a number of days and tend to be worse m’ the afternoon and evening than m’ the morning. Usually, people who have tension headaches have had them for years.
There are several types of tension headaches. Acute muscle contraction headaches, for example, are typically short-lived and can be relieved by stretching 0r gentle massage. Sub-acute muscle contraction headaches are oﬁen called “sick headaches,” because they are disabling and oﬁen accompanied by nausea or vomiting. Migraine headaches typically feature localized pain’. Sometimes they are accompanied by visual disturbances, sensitivity to light, noise and odors or nausea. Cluster headaches got their name because they often occur in clusters. They are unilateral: the pain occurs on only one side of the head.
While rare, some types of headache indicate potentially life-threatening conditions, such as meningitis, tumor or subdural hematoma (a blood clot in the brain). The chiropractor will work with you to rule these types of headache out before designing a treatment regimen.
Re-Aligning the Spine Once your chiropractor has identified what type of headache you get, treatment can begin. If the chiropractic exam indicates that there is a spinal misalignment, the chiropractor will perform an adjustment to re-align the vertebrae. Usually, this includes an adjustment to the neck vertebrae, although sometimes vertebrae in other parts of the spine can be involved.
The adjustment will normalize the spaces between the vertebrae. It often brings immediate pain relief. However, if you have a history of chronic headache, it may take multiple adjustments over a period of weeks before your muscles can re-learn proper posture needed to keep your spine aligned.
The chiropractor may also stimulate selected acupuncture points. Acupuncture is based on an ancient Chinese school of medicine that can alleviate pain by manipulating the ﬂow of energy, or chi, within the body. Chi pathways often correspond to the body’s physical nervous system; improving the flow of chi, therefore, can help with nervous system disorders.
Your chiropractor may also suggest changes to your diet. Sometimes, eliminating a certain allergen, such as dairy, com or wheat, can cure chronic headache.
Chronic headaches can be debilitating. They can impair your ability to enjoy life’s blessings fully. However, there is no reason for you to suffer chronic headaches. Your chiropractor, by helping you identify and correct the root cause of your headaches, can help you feel better—and best of all, you won’t need pills to do it.