Experiencing Headaches? Chiropractic can help!

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Experiencing Headaches?

Are you one of the nine out of ten Americans that suffer from headaches?  Some might experience headaches that are dull and throbbing, but for others the pain can be debilitating and may even be accompanied by nausea.

What is the best thing to do when you have a headache?

Research shows that spinal manipulation - the primary form of care provided by doctors of chiropractic - may be a particularly effective treatment option for tension headaches and headaches that originate in the neck.  A report released in 2001 by researchers at the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham, NC, found that spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those headaches that originate in the neck, and had significantly fewer side effects and longer-lasting relief of tension-type headache than a commonly prescribed medication.1

Also, a 1995 study in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that spinal manipulative therapy is an effective treatment for tension headaches and that those who ceased chiropractic treatment after four weeks experienced a sustained therapeutic benefit in contrast with those patients who received a commonly prescribed medication.2

Headache Triggers

In order to address the problem, you first need to find out what is causing your pain. Headaches have many causes, or "triggers," which may include foods, environmental stimuli (noise, bright light, toxins, stress, etc.) and/or behaviors (insufficient sleep, over-exercising, blood sugar changes, etc.). About 5 percent of all headaches are warning signals caused by physical problems.

Ninety-five percent of headaches are primary headaches, which means that the headache itself is the primary concern and not the symptom of a disease   Primary headaches include tension, migraine, and cluster headaches. 

What Can You Do?

  • If you spend a large amount of time in one fixed position, such as in front of a computer, on a sewing machine, typing or reading, take a break and stretch every 30 minutes to one hour. The stretches should take your head and neck through a comfortable range of motion.
  • Avoid exposure to chemical "air fresheners", cleaning products, and synthetic fragrances prevalent in deodorants, hair and bath products and laundry detergents which can trigger headaches and migraines.
  • Low-impact exercise may help relieve the pain associated with primary headaches. However, if you are prone to dull, throbbing headaches, avoid heavy exercise. Engage in such activities as walking and low-impact aerobics.
  • Avoid teeth clenching. The upper teeth should never touch the lowers, except when swallowing. This results in stress at the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) - the two joints that connect your jaw to your skull - leading to TMJ irritation and a form of tension headaches.  (If you have morning headaches and awaken with noticeable jaw tension, you may be grinding your teeth at night.  A knowledgeable dentist can make you a splint that will keep your jaw in a relaxed position while you sleep.)
  • Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to help avoid dehydration, which can lead to headaches.  

In addition, it is recommended that you avoid the following food "triggers":

  • Caffeine  found in foods such as chocolate, coffee, sodas and cocoa which contain high levels of the stimulant.  If you've been consuming caffeine, it's important to wean yourself off of it gradually to avoid caffeine withdrawal headaches.
  • Foods with a high salt or sugar content which may cause migraines, resulting in sensitivity to light, noise, or abrupt movements.
  • Alcoholic beverages which can cause dehydration and headache pain.
  • MSG, processed meats, and aged cheeses all of which can trigger migraines in susceptible people.
  • Artificial sweeteners can cause not only headaches but a whole host of neurological issues and other problems .  (By the way, if you use artificial sweeteners in an effort to lose weight, you may be surprised to know that studies have show they tend to increase weight gain rather than decrease it.)
  • Some headache sufferers may also find it helpful to avoid common allergy triggers such as gluten, corn, soy, and dairy products.

What Can a Doctor of Chiropractic Do?

Chiropractors may do one or more of the following if you suffer from a primary headache:

  • Perform spinal manipulation or chiropractic adjustments to improve spinal function and alleviate the stress on your system.
  • Provide nutritional advice, recommending a change in diet and perhaps the addition of B complex vitamins.
  • Offer advice on posture, ergonomics (work postures), exercises and relaxation techniques. This advice should help to relieve the recurring joint irritation and tension in the muscles of the neck and upper back.

Doctors of chiropractic undergo extensive training to help their patients in many ways - not just back pain.

If your headache is symptomatic of a health problem that needs the care of another discipline, your doctor of chiropractic will refer you to an appropriate specialist.

1McCrory DC, Penzien DB, Hasselblad V, Gray RN. Evidence Report: Behavioral and Physical Treatments for Tension-type and Cervicogenic Headache. Duke University Evidence-based Practice Center for Clinical Health Policy Research. - 2001

2Boline P, Kassak K, Bronfort G, et al. Spinal Manipulation vs. amitriptyline for the treatment of chronic tension type headaches - a randomized clinical trial. J Manipulative Physiol Ther; 1995 18(3): 148-54

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