If you have a headache, you’re not alone. Nine out of ten Americans suffer from headaches. Some are occasional, some frequent, some are dull and throbbing, and some cause debilitating pain and nausea.
What do you do when you suffer from a pounding headache? Do you grit your teeth and carry on? Lie down? Pop a pill and hope the pain goes away? There is a better alternative.
Research shows that spinal manipulation – the primary form of care provided by doctors of chiropractic – may be an 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.
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.
Headaches have many causes, or “triggers.” These may include foods, environmental stimuli (noises, lights, stress, etc.) and/or behaviors (insomnia, excessive exercise, 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, such as tension, migraine, or cluster headaches. These types of headaches are not caused by disease. The headache itself is the primary concern.
The vast majority of primary headaches are associated with muscle tension in the neck. Today, too many Americans engage in more sedentary activities than they used to, and more hours are spent in one fixed position or posture. Whether this is from work, school or at home in front of the TV or computer the results are always the same. The combination of sedentary lifestyle with activities that find the spine in poor posture will significantly increase the tension in the muscles of the neck, upper neck and even the lower back. This tension overload irritates the delicate nerves of the neck, which can result in altered blood pressure control and ultimately the huge warning sign: HEADACHE! It’s your bodies way of trying to tell you to stop it!
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.
- 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.
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to help avoid dehydration, which can lead to headaches.
What Can a Doctor of Chiropractic Do?
If you are suffering from headaches what can we do as a Chiropractor?
- Provide a chiropractic adjustment to improve spinal function and alleviate the stress on your nervous 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.
If you, a family member, friend or work colleague suffers from headaches the first and most important thing to do is identify the cause of the headaches. As chiropractors we are always looking for the cause of our patients symptoms and helping to aleviate it. Of course, we start by looking at the spine and correcting any problems at the spine will often offer amazing relief. Be sure that your loved ones have had their spine checked for subluxations.
For Your Health,
Dr. Ted Smith and