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How Helpful Is A Chiropractor For Headaches? Know The Truth

How Long Do Migraines Last and Can A Chiropractor Help It?

Almost everyone experiences a headache once in a while. It is a very common problem that can become bigger if you keep ignoring it. What seems to be a simple headache can easily become a nightmare. That is why it is essential to tend to that pain as early as possible to avoid any complications. And one of the best ways to treat that pain is to receive chiropractic care. While medicines are certainly helpful, prolonged consumption can lead to side effects. That is not something you would want in your life in the long run.

But then one question comes to mind, “Is Chiropractic care really effective for headaches?”. If yes, then how effective is it? And this is what we will try to answer in this blog. So, keep on reading!

The Most Common Types Of Headaches

While headache is very common, there are many types that may not be as common as the others. However, we will only focus on some of the common headaches for which people visit a chiropractor. This does not mean that chiropractic care will not be effective for other types. It’s just that it is not as common a sight as the ones we are going to mention.

The types are as follows:

  • Cluster Headache
  • Migraine Headache
  • Cervicogenic Headache
  • Tension Headache

Cluster Headache

A common characteristic of cluster headaches is painful burning and piercing. The pain usually occurs beneath one of the eyes or around it. The symptoms of a cluster headache include

Swelling, redness, sweating, etc., on the side of the face, which is affected by the headache
Stuffy nose and watery eyes on that same side

A series of headaches lasting from about 15 minutes to over 3 hours is quite common. While there is no specific time period for the headache, the range can be from one occasional headache to 7-8 headaches every day.

Cluster headaches are more common in the season of spring and fall. As for the period between these seasons, the people are usually free of symptoms. Also, these headaches are more common in males than in females. However, the reason for their occurrence is still not clear.

Migraine Headache


Migraine is another common type of headache that causes intense pain on either side of your head. One thing to note about migraines is that the pain gets worse with more physical activity. The pain can make you sensitive to light and sound and may even make you feel nauseating. Some people suffering from migraine may even experience these symptoms to an extreme level.

It is more of a neurological condition which is usually very difficult for the one suffering. And this condition is more common in females, contrary to clusters. The triggers for migraine are as follows:

  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Dehydration
  • Skipped meals

Cervicogenic Headache


The pain from a cervicogenic headache is one-sided and starts from the neck. Even though it originates there, the person can feel it up to the head. Also, it is very common to confuse this headache with a migraine or tension headache. However, the one notable difference is that cervicogenic headaches are secondary. It means that the source of the pain is another condition which can be a neck injury, infection, or extreme levels of blood pressure.

The symptoms of this headache are:

  • Light and noise sensitivity
  • Pain around the eyes and in the shoulders, neck, or one side of the arm
  • Pain from the movement of the neck or certain positions
  • Nausea
  • Blurry sight

The major cause for this headache type is the structural issues in and around the neck. And the most common place where it occurs is the C1-3 vertebrae which ultimately results in this headache. Other common causes are:

  • Strain in the neck
  • Whiplash
  • Fracture
  • Tumor
  • Upper spine arthritis
  • Infection

Tension Headache


Tension headache is the most common type of headache. People usually experience this pain in the form of episodes, once or twice on average. However, they can also be chronic. The pain can either be mild, moderate or sometimes even intense, occurring below the eyes or in the head and neck.

The cause of these headaches is still unknown, despite it being the most common form of headache. One possible reason is the muscle tension around the head and neck or due to problems in posture.

Being more sensitive to pain may also be one of the triggers. While there is also a belief that genes may have some sort of influence on the effect of this headache, there is not enough clinical evidence to prove that.

Some common triggers of tension headaches are as follows:

  • High consumption of alcohol
  • Daily stress
  • Strain in the eyes
  • Dental problems
  • Habitual smoking
  • Exhaustion
  • Bad posture
  • Cold or flu
  • Sinus infection
  • Dehydration
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Increased intake of caffeine

Mild or moderate pain in the head is quite common. The other symptoms of the headache are

  • Dull pain in the head
  • Difficulty in maintaining focus
  • Getting easily irritated
  • Feeling nauseating or vomiting
  • A feeling of pressure around the forehead

Can A Chiropractor Really Help With Relief From Headaches? (Based On Research)

While the medicines do offer relief from the pain, the relief is just temporary. And that is one of the main reasons for visiting a chiropractor for headaches. They target the root of the pain and not the pain itself, which is beneficial in the long run.

But then a question comes up, “Is chiropractic care really effective for headaches?”. Let’s try to find out.

As per the American Chiropractic Association, chiropractors can be effective in treating headaches. There are also studies indicating that appropriate spinal adjustment may help treat different types of headaches.

There was one such report in 2014 which was published in the Journal Of Manipulative And Physiological Therapeutics (JMPT). According to that report, there was a significant improvement in the results of acute and chronic neck pain treatment. It led to the belief that chiropractic care may be helpful in the treatment of cervicogenic headaches. Another 2011 study in JMPT also indicates that chiropractic care may be capable of treating migraine and cervicogenic headaches.

Now, while the studies show the usefulness of chiropractors, there is not enough definite evidence to claim that. That is because there are also instances of associated risks/side effects.

Also Read: Top 4 Cervical Disc Herniation Exercises That Help Relieve Pain

How Can A Chiropractor Help With Different Types Of Headaches?

Even though the effectiveness of chiropractors is in question, the results state otherwise. And with a professionally trained & certified Chiropractor, the chances of a treatment going wrong also reduces.

You can also check out Dr. Michael Shaub (Realign Spine), who is a certified Chiropractor with over 26 years of experience.

Now, coming back to how a chiropractor can help with headaches. In case of a primary headache, the doctor may

Use spinal adjustment or manipulation to relieve the stress on your body and improve overall functioning.
Suggest you a dietary routine to meet your needs
Offer advice on maintaining posture, exercising, etc.

While these guidelines are helpful, they are very general and may not be appropriate for every headache. Let us have a look at the detailed treatment for specific types of headaches.

NOTE: While Chiropractic care may be effective in relieving pain, it may not treat the condition. The focus of chiropractic care is more on the symptoms than the condition itself.

Cervicogenic Headache

The techniques that a chiropractor uses for this type of headache include the following:

Spinal Manipulation: The Chiropractor may use hands or a device to control the flow of pressure to any specific joint of the spine. There is usually a popping sound when the Chiropractor applies the force.

The cervical spine is the focus of the manipulation when cervicogenic headache is concerned.

There may also be adverse effects of the treatment. However, most of them are mild and do not live long. In rare cases, there can be associated risks as well, such as

  • Stroke
  • Disc Herniation
  • Bleeding
  • Dissection
  • Nerve Compression

Joint Mobilization: The other method of treatment is joint mobilization, in which there is passive movement of joints. The motive of the Chiropractor behind this is to improve movement and reduce pain. This method also targets the cervical spine to provide relief from headaches.

Deep Neck Flexion Exercises:  In these exercises, there is involvement of joint and muscle movement. Of course, the exercises are performed under the guidance of an experienced and trained chiropractor.

Some examples of deep neck flexion exercises are:

  • Stretching neck muscles
  • Neck retraction
  • Bed hangs
  • Neck rotation

The supervision of an expert is really important as you can get involved in some injury due to the exercises. It may even worsen the pain.

The main goal of these exercises is to improve the movement and functioning of the deep neck muscles, which are crucial in supporting the neck. It also helps in improving the posture.

Migraine Headache

As migraines are usually associated with neck pain, chiropractic care may just be the right thing. The treatment options that a chiropractor uses for migraines are as follows:

Neuromuscular massage: This massage is also called trigger point therapy. That is because it focuses on the trigger points on the neck, shoulder, head, and back. The massage helps in improving the flow of blood and also relieves stress on the body. As the pressure from the nerves that send pain signals to the brain releases, the symptoms may ease.

Multidisciplinary care intervention: This method has been found to be very effective when it is used in combination with physical therapy exercises, stress management, a healthy diet, and relaxation techniques. It helps in reducing the pain due to migraine, its duration, frequency, as well as disability.

Tension Headache

Since episodes are common in tension headaches, chiropractors try to use spinal manipulation to relieve the stress on the body. The parts of the body which are stressed in the method include the neck, shoulders, and head.

Note that chiropractic care may not be as helpful as you might think. However, it certainly helps with relieving chronic pain.

Low-load craniocervical mobilization: It is the other form of treatment for tension headaches. The force used in this method is much lesser than spinal manipulation. In case of tension headaches, force may be applied to the neck joints. Stretching is also a part of this method which allows a flowing movement in the cervical segments.

Cluster Headache

As we already saw that cluster headaches are extremely painful, and that is also the reason why they are called “suicide headaches.” There are studies that say that chiropractors may be very effective in the treatment of cluster headaches. The reason for that may be because of the natural healing that chiropractic care offers.

While there is no certain cure, improving the overall healing and functioning of the body seems to be more effective. And that is what chiropractors offer.

Spinal manipulation is a technique that a chiropractor may use. But, to make it more effective, the Chiropractor may recommend the following:

  • Diet plan
  • Breathing exercises
  • Creating a healthy sleep schedule
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Easy to do exercises

Is Chiropractic Care Safe For Children And Pregnant Women?

Taking the help of a chiropractor for headaches may be effective from a general perspective. But is it safe for vulnerable groups such as children or pregnant women? Let’s find out!

For Children

The common form of headache among children is migraine. And while the doctors may prescribe medicines, constant exposure to them may harm the children. The parents may also feel hesitant to provide their kids with medications.

In that scenario, chiropractors become an available option for treatment. In fact, there was a report by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners that about 20 percent of the population visiting a chiropractor was young and below 18.

Even though the number of children getting chiropractic care is sufficient, the quality of evidence is very low. Also, the American Chiropractic Association has evidence of adverse effects on children due to chiropractic care.

While the number of children with adverse effects was low, you should still be careful. If you are keen on seeking a chiropractor, ensure that the Chiropractor has experience in treating children.

For Pregnant Women

There are many experts that believe in the side effects of preventive medications. It can even lead to poor health for the mother and the unborn child. In this case, chiropractic care becomes an available alternative as well.

There is not much research on this specific scenario. However, there is an older study that suggests the safety and effectiveness of chiropractic care.

The study was conducted in 2009, involving a 24-year-old pregnant female. She had been suffering from chronic migraine for 12 years. Her treatment included many therapies and drugs, but none was able to provide her relief.

Later on, when she received chiropractic care through spinal manipulation, her symptoms improved. The need for medication also stopped after that.

This study suggests that chiropractic care may be helpful in relieving pain from migraine in pregnant women. However, there is a need for more research to say that with certainty.

6 Lifestyle Changes To Support Chiropractic Care

There is certainly a lack of research on the benefits of chiropractors for headaches. However, we can also not deny that it is effective for many.

You can also go for lifestyle changes which will serve as a support to chiropractic care. It will not only help with headaches but will also improve your quality of life. That is why we bring you some important lifestyle changes to support chiropractic care.

  • Drinking A Sufficient Amount Of Water
  • Move Towards A Healthy Diet
  • Try To Get 7-8 Hours Of Sleep
  • Go Out With Your Friends/Family To Relieve The Stress
  • Avoid Smoking & Drinking Alcohol
  • Exercise Regularly

It may be hard to believe, but your lifestyle can impact the intensity and frequency of headaches. All these activities also reduce the triggers for many types of headaches.

And if you still experience pain, contact a healthcare expert asap.

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