In the United States, headaches are responsible for more than 18 million office visits annually, and are the most common reason for using over-the-counter medications. It is estimated that 156 million work days are lost each year because of headaches, translating to $25 billion in lost productivity. Of the categories of chronic headaches, tension-type headaches are most common. (Erickson, 2004)
With this said, many people may want to seek out other therapies for their tension-type headaches. There are many reasons for seeking alternative therapies. Perhaps traditional treatments are not effective, the headaches are worsening, or maybe popping medications like M&M's have become a pain in and of itself? Whatever the case, there are alternative therapies for treating tension-type headaches which are surprisingly as effective as medications, but without all of the side effects. My favorite happens to be chiropractic therapy so that is what I am going to talk about today.
First and foremost, it is important to get a proper diagnosis. Headaches can be triggered by a multitude of things from loud noises to neurological problems (lesions, aneurisms, tumors, and the like). It is very important to rule out causal factors which may become severely worse (or even deadly) if not treated and that the headache is in fact a tension-type headache, (Mann & Coeytaux,2007; Erickson, 2004).
When picking a chiropractor, like any health professional, it is important to get a professional and reputable one. I have heard of too many horror stories of people going into a friends' of an acquaintance's basement to have a $10 adjustment done. I do not even recommend doing this for a tattoo let alone getting a chiropractic adjustment. So, as a rule of thumb, I always look for three major qualities: experience, certification, and most importantly, location, location, location. Believe this or not, the location will tell you almost everything you need to know about a professional, e.g. who is the professional, what their clientele is like, where their offices are in terms of the city, when the business first opened, and how long they have been in business in the same area. I learned my lesson about a decade ago when I went to a dentist with a hole-in-the wall, smoke filled, office next to a bar in a really slummy part of the city. (In the waiting area, there was a half full ash tray on a broken lamp stand and a box of stale doughnuts next to a pot of coffee on a desk in the corner). I should have walked out but I didn't and I regret it to this day. But I digress. Just follow the three rules, do your research, and listen to your gut instincts and you will be fine.
When you find a chiropractor who meets your approval, they will take a health history in addition to a physical exam. Chiropractic practitioners utilize spinal treatments among other methods to correct alignment problems and open up the central nervous system which improves mobility, decreases pain and allows the body to heal naturally (1, NCAM). Don't be afraid to ask questions during your visit. A chiropractor who answers your questions thoroughly shows that they not only knows what he is doing, but who also cares as well.
When it comes to your tension headaches, your chiropractor should focus on the upper spine. The upper spine, (called the cervical) is usually the major culprit in causing tension headaches. Damage to C1 or C2 may occur for many reasons and often without notice, but when the upper cervical becomes contorted, the muscles in the upper back and neck tries to compensate, thus results in stiff and tight muscles. This is why pain killers and muscle relaxers do not cure the headaches. By not correcting or improving the stress on the nervous system related to the subluxations or subluxation complex may result in continued pain and suffering, often becoming more severe over time. Chiropractic care, however, has been found to improve most headaches (Bryans 2011).
Not surprisingly, chiropractic care may yield results very quickly. Some patients feel immediate improvement, while others may feel drastic improvement in less than six sessions. The philosophy behind this field of care works with the correction of subluxations and or the subluxations complex, which is the primary cause of tension headaches. Typical adjustments work toward the restoration of the central nervous system which allows improved neural function and the allowance of nutrients to enter without restrictions, (Epstein & Posa, 1999).
A chiropractic professional will take a health history in addition to a physical exam. If chiropractic treatment is deemed appropriate, then treatment will be performed. Chiropractic practitioners utilize spinal treatments among other methods to correct alignment problems, which improve function and pain and allow the body to heal naturally, (1, NCAM).
Another benefit of the chiropractic adjustment is that it reduces stress on the nervous system, (Toftness, 1977). The reduction of stress often leads to a reduction in pain, and consequently, a reduction in pain medication as well. All too often, chiropractors see patients who were being treated by their primary physician with medication in order to mask the symptoms, causing further stress (and damage) on the vertebrae. The result of medication in these cases often leads to a circular pattern (stress -> pain -> medication -> side effects) where more medication is prescribed as the amount of pain increases. From a chiropractic standpoint, pain is thought of as an alarm and if the body is allowed to heal naturally, the pain is naturally reduced.
Bryans R, Descarreaux M, Duranleau M, Marcouz H, Potter B, Ruegg R, Shaw L, Watkin R, White E. Evidence-based guidelines for the chiropractic treatment of adults with headaches. 34(5):274-289. 2011.
Chiropractic: An Introduction. NCAM. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/chiropractic/introduction.htm Accessed October 1, 2011.
Epstein, D., & Posa, A. (1999, Feb-March). Breaking New Ground for Long Term Health and Wellness: Network Spinal Analysis. Retrieved 10 2, 2011, from Association for NetworkCare: http://wwwassociationfornetworkcare.com/articles/breakingnewground/networkspinalanalysis
Erickson, K. (2004). Chiropractic and Osteopathic Care. In B. Kliger, Integrative Medicine (pp. 153-176). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Ernst, E. "Chiropractic Maintenance Treatment, a Useful Preventative Approach?" Preventative Medicine 49.2-3 (2009): 99-100.
Liliedahl, Richard, David V. Axene , Christine M. Goertz, (2010). "Cost of Care for Common Back Pain Conditions Initiated with Chiropractic Doctor vs Medical Doctor/Doctor of Osteopathy as First Physician: Experience of One Tennessee-Based General Health Insurer." Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 33(9): 640-643
Mann, D., & Coeytaux, R. (2007). Migraine and Tension-Type Headache. In D. Rakel, Integrative Medicine (pp. 143-151). Philadelphia: Elseviere Saunders.
Toftness, I. (1977). Chiropractic Spinal Correction :Philosophy of Chiropractic Correction. Cumberland, Wisconsin: Toftness Publishing
Bronfort, G., Haas,M, Evans, R., Bouter,L (2004) Efficacy of spinal manipulation and mobilization for low back pain and neck pain: a systematic review and best evidence synthesis. The Spine Journal. (4); 335-356
Rubinstein, S., Leboeuf-Yde,C.,Knol, D., deKoekkoef,T.Pfeifle,C.,vanTudder,M. The Benefits Outweigh the Risks for Patients Undergoing Chiropractic Care for Neck Pain: A Prospective, Multicenter, Cohort Study. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics Volume 30, Issue 6, July 2007, Pages 408-418
Wolsko, Peter M. MD, MPH, Eisenberg, David M. MD; Davis, Roger B. ScD; Kessler, Ronald PhD and; Phillips, Russell S. MD. Patterns and Perceptions of Care for Treatment of Back and Neck Pain: Results of a National Survey. Spine: 1 February 2003 - Volume 28 - Issue 3 - pp 292-297