How Does Achtermann Chiropractic Help with Headaches?
Headaches are one of the most common complaints that we see at our office. Although there are many causes of headaches we have found that many different types of headaches originate from mechanical problems in the neck. Some headaches such as migraine and cluster headaches are related to vascular problems. These types of headaches often include nausea and/or vomiting and can be quite disabling and require rest in a dark, quiet place. Other headaches can be categorized as “tension” headaches. These usually result from tightness in the muscles in the neck and upper back caused from stress, work, lack of sleep, sinusitis, trauma such as whiplash, and others. Pain can be felt in the upper neck or the back of the head as well as in the frontal/sinus region, top or sides of the head. It can vary from a throbbing pain to an ache to just constant pain.
So “how does chiropractic help headaches?” To answer this, let’s first discuss what we do when a patient comes in with a headache. First, we take a very thorough history. This narrows down the actual cause of headaches, such as a car accident, bad posture, or other reason.
Next, we’ll ask about activities that increase or create the headache, which gives us ideas of how we might help manage the headache. For example, when certain activities precipitate the onset of a headache, we will give recommendations to modify the workstation and/or give specific exercises on a regular schedule to keep the neck tension under control. We will recommend treatments that can be done at home such as a home traction unit, stretches, moist heat/ ice, etc. This would be suggested if we are told that “…pulling on my neck feels great!” The quality of pain (throbbing = vascular, ache and tightness = neck), intensity of pain (0-10 pain scale), and timing (worse in the morning vs. evening) help us manage headaches and figure out which type of treatment is best for each patient.
What most people don’t realize is that mechanical dysfunction of the vertebrae of the neck will cause increased muscle tension as well as irritate the delicate nerves that control blood flow into the head. Improving the movement or alignment of the bones in the neck can relieve the pressure and irritation that results in headaches. How do we get misalignments or dysfunction in the joints of the neck? This can be due to trauma such as falls or car accidents. Repetitive stress such as hours of work on a computer, poor posture or stress can also take a toll over time. In many patients it is a combination of activities that took place often years before which has led to chronic and recurring headaches. The examination evaluates these issues as well as attempts to rule out other more serious causes, which can occur but are more rare. Nerve function by checking reflexes, sensation and muscle strength as well as correlating information like positions that decrease arm or leg pain will be included as any position that reduces pain in the arm or leg must be incorporated into an exercise. X-rays may include bending “stress” views so that ligaments (that hold bones together) can be evaluated for “laxity” (torn and unstable). When this is found, we avoid adjustments to these vertebrae. We also evaluate the jaw or TMJ for involvement. Often jaw misalignments are correlated to headaches and once the jaw is in alignment relief is felt.
As you can see, if is very important do a thorough evaluation so headaches can be properly managed. Treatment approaches include:
1. Chiropractic Adjustments: We can use the low force Activator/ or Arthrostim or do hands on adjustments to realign the neck, which reduces nerve pressure and alleviates pain from headaches.
2. Soft tissue therapy (trigger point stimulation, myofascial release): We can do Cupping on your muscles or Electric Muscle Stimulation to relax tight muscles. Applying moist heat or ice can also reduce tension and swelling.
3. Acupuncture relaxes the neck/ shoulder muscles and decrease the pain from headaches.
3. Posture correction exercises.
4. Education about job modifications.
5. Co-management with other health care providers, if medication or injection therapy is needed.