Headache Treatment: Are Chiropractic & Massage Effective?

Speak to anyone who suffers headaches and migraines regularly and you will learn how debilitating and annoying it can be. It can get to the point where you’re unable to function or even go to work. Having said that, it intrigues me how often people tell me they suffer ‘normal’ headaches or migraines like everyone else. There is nothing normal about a headache or migraine! There are many different types of headaches and migraines which cause facial pain and some of these include cervicogenic headaches, tension-type headaches, migraines with/without aura, sinus headaches, cluster(suicidal) headaches, TMJ or jaw dysfunction, infection, temporal arteritis and trigeminal neuralgia.

There are a multitude of reasons why people suffer headaches and migraines. Potential causes that we see often in clinical practice range from stress, hormonal imbalance, blood pressure changes, poor posture, muscle tightness and cervical spine dysfunction.

ANATOMY OF THE CERVICAL SPINE

The cervical spine consists of seven individual bones (referred to as vertebrae) as well as their associated musculature, tendons, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels. If your spine is misaligned as is the case seen with poor posture and loss of normal cervical lordosis it leads to compensatory changes in nerve function, muscle tightness, pain, stiffness as well as headaches and migraines. Because of this, Chiropractors are well placed to assist these types of cases as they are musculoskeletal rehabilitation experts.

WHAT ARE THE BEST HEADACHE TREATMENT TECHNIQUES?

See below for detailed information regarding some of the most common approaches used by headache & migraine sufferers.

Chiropractic

Chiropractors may use a range of treatment techniques that are best suited to your individual situation, some techniques that you may experience in relation to your headache treatment include:

  • Spinal manipulation for cervical spine dysfunction involves adjusting restricted joints (particularly of the upper neck) to improve joint alignment, movement, flexibility and reduce referred headache pain
  • Joint mobilisation is sometimes a preferred technique as it is more gentle on the joints of the neck and spine. Mobilisation involves stretching joints.
  • Activator methods requires the use of a hand held Chiropractic instrument that makes a characteristic clicking sound when used. This technique is much like joint mobilisation and does not require any ‘cracking’ of joints
Massage

If your headaches and migraines involve a muscular cause than massage techniques as used by Myotherapists and Remedial Massage therapists can be useful. Techniques may include effleurage, trigger point therapy, ischaemic compression and more which are designed to reduced muscle and soft tissue spasm.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a therapy that uses fine needles which are inserted into specific points around the body to facilitate relaxation and blood vessels changes. Both of these actions reduce pain associated with headaches, migraines and many other musculoskeletal related problems.

Medication

Typical medications which are commonly administered for headaches and migraines include Imigran, Nurofen plus, Mersyndol and Panadine Forte. Please consult with your doctor prior to taking such medications to see if it is safe for your current situation.

CHIROPRACTIC & HEADACHE RESEARCH

  • A 32 year old woman suffering persistent headaches over a 5-month period received Chiropractic care in combination with Acupuncture. It was noted upon follow up that her headaches had resolved and she did not report an episode in the previous 12months suggesting that these methods were an effective headache treatment option. Bahia, O. (2012). Combination of Acupuncture and Spinal Manipulative Therapy: Management of a 32yr old patient with chronic tension type headache and migraine. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 11(3); 192 – 201
  • It has been shown that Chiropractic manipulation improves migraine and headaches of cervicogenic origin suggesting a positive influence in headache treatment. Roland, B et al (2011). Evidence based guidelines for the Chiropractic treatment of adults with headache. Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapeutics, 34(5); 274 – 289
is chiropractic a good headache treatment