Chiropractic Therapy for Migraine Headaches

Migraine and similar vascular headaches affect more than 12% of the US population and the healthcare and economical cost of migraine treatment is estimated to be more than $20 billion USD every year.

The etiological factors that lead to migraine headaches are not very clear but due to disabling effects of severe migraine headaches in some individuals, a lot of therapies have been devised. Migraine headaches are believed to be induced by vascular changes in the blood vessels supplying the head and neck region which causes increased formation or release of some neuro-mediators that changes the biochemical environment of neural tissue.

There are 2 common varieties of migraines. One of these is unilateral, pulsatile and throbbing that involves visual eye-fields but without aura. The other is the classic migraine (15 to 20% in prevalence) that is associated with an aura or prodromal symptoms like flashes of light, nausea and vomiting and photo-sensitivity. Chiropractor therapy is effective in treating both types of migraines.

Migraine headaches are mainly vascular and the caliber of blood vessels can be managed by spinal modulation. In individuals who have a history of migraine headaches, ordinary pain-killer therapy is neither recommended nor effective. That’s why chiropractic therapy is becoming extremely popular in treating migraine headaches. Research studies and clinical trial results have proved that chiropractic therapy decreases the frequency and intensity of episodes.

In migraine headaches, certain triggers like stress, chemicals, lack of sleep or certain foods causes vaso-constriction in the vessels supplying head region. Due to low oxygen and nutrient delivery, certain mediators are produced due to ischemia that helps in signaling brain to increase the blood supply. Eventually the increased blood supply to brain is the main patho-physiologic event that causes migraine headaches.

Chiropractic therapy helps in relieving pressure and stress to decrease the formation of chemicals and mediators causing vaso-constriction in the first place. Sometimes the nerves and blood vessels become extra sensitive to chemicals in the blood because of cervical vertebra issues like subluxation, spondylosis or asymptomatic cervical disc degeneration. Chiropractor therapy helps in the realignment of vertebral bodies and decreases the intensity and frequency of migraine headaches. Chiropractic spinal stimulation also helps in improving nerve irritation and make spinal nerves and vessels less sensitive to hormones and chemicals in blood.

A variety of techniques can be employed by chiropractors to treat migraine headaches after conducting a detailed history, physical examination and musculo-skeletal survey of head and neck region. Cervical neck adjustment is the most common technique practiced by chiropractors to alleviate neck stiffness in order to restore optimal blood flow to the head and neck region. The neck adjustments are done manually by experienced chiropractors. Cervical neck adjustments aim at realigning the bodies of vertebra in order to decrease the stress and inflammation. Neck adjustments also stabilize and support neck ligaments that help in maintaining optimal blood flow across blood vessels.

Other strategies that help in the stabilization of neck musculature includes massage that helps in detoxification of tissues by increasing blood flow across the neck tissues (thereby decreases the toxins and chemicals that may induce an attack of a migraine). Apart from the primary techniques, rehabilitation also helps in supporting and maintaining optimal neck posture that poses less strain on neck musculature and vessels.

Besides chiropractic therapy, there are a number of other interventions that may help. Identifying and avoiding triggers of migraine headache is important. The triggering agents are different in different individuals and can include coffee, bright light, loud music and lack of sleep. Maintaining a healthy diet that is rich in micro and macronutrients that are required to maintain the patency of blood vessels is also important in preventing migraines.