Why do I have headaches? Recent research supports that chiropractic care can be safer and more effective for resolving pain in the long term.
Headaches are an epidemic in our society, The cost of medications purchased to combat the issues is literally astounding. Let's understand why so many of us are dealing with this problem, and why other options for care can be safer and effective in the long term.
What does recent research say about the effectiveness of Chiropractic Care for the treatment of headaches and pain.
Recent research supports that chiropractic treatments may reduce the frequency of migraine headaches. A 2019 systematic review evaluated several studies that suggested spinal adjustments may be an effective treatment for reducing migraine pain and disability. Published in 2019 in the Journal of Headache and Face Pain, (research paper the review ) found that spinal manipulation/adjustment may be an effective therapeutic technique to reduce migraine days, including the level of pain and intensity experienced.
Why do I get headaches?
98% of headaches reported fall into the category of migraine or tension type headaches. If like many you suffer from headaches you know that they can be utterly debilitating, they affect your ability to function in the world, and your life is profoundly affected. You can't think straight, you are irritable and it affects all your relationships at work and at home.
So let's take a walk along the functional pathway to begin, there are many starting points on this route, so I have picked one to begin our journey.
When you use your eyes the muscles at the top of your neck are switched on, this is ancient programming. Your eye function is primarily designed to protect you from predators. When we were roaming the wilds we evolved to be able to hold our head up and focus on the horizon, so we could see if something was coming that consider us a tasty treat. In order for us to see the horizon and our periphery we must hold our head up, level our eyes, and then engage in tracking. Tracking means our eyes lock onto something moving (like a tiger) and stay locked on. To do this we need to move our eyes, not necessarily our head. The very top three vertebra and all their component parts, are directly connected by nerves to our eyes, this is not a random coincidence, it has enabled us to stay alive and evolve . If you are sitting reading a screen, you are using your neck muscles not just to hold your head up, but it allows us to read across, or up and down the page, even when we are not moving our head. We simply could not read anything without this neural connection. Even if you are lying down reading your neck supported, the upper neck muscles or suboccipital and other muscles are engaged to enable your eyes to work
Now consider that you may sit at your desk all day, with perfect posture (we can dream) and we do this for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week. Now consider how much work your upper neck structures, muscles, joints and nerves have to do to simply allow you to read a page of text. We think of this as a passive activity but in reality you are using multiple physical structures, which work all day everyday to achieve what we think of as a basic task. Add up the hours over a week, a month or a year and then add on top how many hours after work you sit looking at your phone, watching TV, playing computer games, reading blogs like this one. On top of this we perhaps are worried about sick relative, a deadline at work and the tension builds further. I think you are getting the picture.
So what do we feel when we have been doing this for long periods? Our neck, head and face literally get tight, the muscles of the head, neck and face and the nerves that control them are working constantly. They begin to get tired loose energy and then opt to stay in a contracted tight state all the time, its their only option. Some of the muscles we are discussing start on the first and second vertebra at the very top of your spine, and cross over to attach to the base of the skull (occiput), these allow your head to be stable and also assist movement. Some of the fibres of these muscles leave the place they start on the top vertebra and pass beneath the skull they go through the hole along with your spinal cord and attach to the outer covering of your brain called the dura matter. The dura matter is connected to your brain, like a blanket . There literally is a direct connection between your neck and your brain. So one of the most common causes of headaches and migraines is when these muscles become so tight that they yank on the covering of the brain, which is highly sensitive. Your brain tissue does not like this at all and puts out an alert to the deeper part of your brain (e.g amygdala) to attempt to get an output response to fix this problem. The issue when this happens is not simple, biomechanical function of the whole upper neck is altered, the joints that should move to allow us to turn our head or flex it, become fixed (stuck), the nerves that exit from the spine at these levels become inflamed, more messages are triggered in your brain. The right amygdala is involved in with negative emotions, fear, anxiety and sadness. In an attempt to find a solution, our ancient brain response to all these inputs and tries to lock the neck muscles in place, allowing you to "limp back to your cave", and survive another day. This ancient brain response is not helpful to us in the modern world, where we are not likely to be fleeing a wild beast. Other things are happening physiologically, the structures under physical tension/stress no longer receive fresh blood and fresh nutrients, the "flush" is not working so more metabolites build up, these irritate nerve endings more messages are sent to our brain from these overworked structures , and our brain emits an experience we call pain.
You may be advised, to use pain killers, to take away your pain, but is the best option in this case? Will removing the fire alarm, resolve the actual problem, I fear the house may burn down, as the fire is still raging, no action has been taken to put the fire out, we only stopped the alarm bell ringing. The opioid epidemic in the 80-90's sadly has become a clear indicator of what can happen when this approach is the primary approach, and people are getting wise to these risks.
Pain is a warning bell, it says "something is wrong, let's get that something sorted out" Our headaches are the alarm bell indicating that structures in your head and neck are not functioning normally, so we must address the loss of function, return function to the joints, nerves, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, and return motion to your head and neck, to the facial and cranial bones, all of which are affected, and signalling the deep tissues of the brain that result in fear, anxiety and sadness, now we don't just have a physical problem, our mental health is involved.
If action is not taken over time, pain meds need to be increased to get the same outcome, your liver or gut are struggling with the toxins, and this in its own right can triggers headaches, that story is for another blog. The problem gets bigger and more complex. We start to feel wholly unwell mentally and physically , required days of work, headaches cause a lot of sick days.
Given that the majority of headaches fit into the benign category and are the result physiological dysfunction which result in dysfunction of the neuro-musculoskeletal system , should we not at least try to address that dysfunction, as opposed to taking a chemical that will block the message from lighting up. In times gone by there was little research supporting chiropractic care for pain resolution, chiropractic treatments do not produce the billions of dollars pharmaceutical produce, so there was little funding for research, however the tide has changed and neuroscientist all over the world are working on natural (non harmful ways low risk ) ways to help us manage the pain of living.
"One of the largest studies of its kind provided evidence that chiropractic care combined with common medical care provides greater pain relief than medical care alone. "
In 2018, researchers completed one of the largest comparative effectiveness trials between usual medical care and chiropractic care ever conducted.
The study published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) featured 750 active-duty members of the military. According to the study, chiropractic care is already integrated into more than half of military treatment facilities across the United States.
The results showed that chiropractic care combined with standard medical care for pain, provides better pain relief and a greater reduction in disability than medical care alone. The trial also demonstrated a low risk of harm, while leading to high patient satisfaction and perceived improvement in active-duty military personnel. "
This article includes both educated opinions and scientific research. The cited research can be found at the National University of Health Sciences, which aims to improve and advance understanding of health through evidence based research. Find their site here, https://www.nuhs.edu/how-new-research-is-advancing-the-field-of-chiropractic-medicine/. We hope you found this article thought provoking.
To better understand the basics of how chiropractic works, take a look at our wellness page its an easy place to begin learning.
Dr Carolyn Hall is a medical professional that focuses care on natural approaches to Neuromusculo-Skeletal problems. She has been a registered medical practitioner for over 23 years. Pain & Optimal Body Function are her focus. She has a two undergraduate degrees in Health and Sports Science, and a Masters of Science in Chiropractic, and thats just to begin with.