Are your Headaches a Pain in Your Neck?
A man walks into his bedroom holding two aspirin and a glass of water. His wife asks, “What’s that for?” The man replies, “It’s for your headache!” “I don’t have a headache,” says the wife. The man replies “Gotcha!”
The World Health Organization estimates that 47% of people in the US experience at least one headache throughout the year.1 I would guess that the actual number of people who experience headaches yearly is much higher than that. Headaches are an issue that I have seen with increasing frequency in my practice. They have become so common that many times people don’t consider them a condition, and they never tell me about them until I specifically ask if they have headaches. I must emphasize that no matter how common headaches are, they are still a matter that deserves our attention. First, it’s important that we begin to understand what really causes headaches. Most importantly, what can be done to help those suffering from frequent headaches without them having to run for a bottle of pills every time?
The brain itself is insensitive to pain. Therefore, headache pain usually occurs in the tissues covering the brain, the attaching structures at the base of the brain, or the muscles and blood vessels around the scalp, face and neck. The International Headache Society lists 129 different types of headaches, but the general categories are tension, cluster, and migraine. The associated pain is described as sharp, stabbing, dull, throbbing, and vice-like. Different types of physical, chemical, and emotional stress – including fatigue, worry, noise, fluorescent lights, travel, improper sleep, smoke, and food additives (such as MSG and nitrates) often trigger headaches
Although the previously listed things may trigger a headache, the actual cause of most headaches is often a series of traumatic, repetitive, micro-traumatic events such as motor vehicle accidents, contact sports, postural habits, whiplash, and occupational tasks (Hello, desk-sitters!).
Unfortunately, headache-sufferers often resort to popping an Advil or an Aspirin for some temporary relief. Americans consume 80 billion Aspirin tablets each year. It may temporarily reduce the discomfort of the headache, but it does little to correct the cause of the problem. In fact, Dr. Lee Kudrow, M.D. at the California Center for Headaches states “Chronic use of aspirin actually promotes chronic tension headaches.”2 Of more serious concern, overuse of aspirin has been associated with bleeding ulcers, Reye’s syndrome, and kidney disorders.
Although headaches are not caused by just one specific source, a large amount of research clearly demonstrates that the majority of headaches are caused by problems in the cervical (neck) region of the spine. The vertebrae (bones) of the neck can become misaligned because of one incidence of excessive stress such as a whiplash injury. At the same time, repetitive stress such as poor work posture, looking down at a computer, cell phone or tablet can also be the culprit. These misalignments irritate the nerves of the neck and cause excessive muscle tension, all of which contribute to a wide variety of headaches. Here’s what some of the research has to say on the matter:
“Over 70% of all headaches arise from problems within the cervical spine and its related structures.”3 – Canadian Family Physician
“Headaches are frequently caused by compression of cervical nerve roots and prolonged tension of the neck muscles.”4 – Basic Neurology
“Anatomical, physiological, and clinical evidence exists which indicate that disorders in the structure of the cervical spine are a frequent cause of headaches.”5 – Modern Manual Therapy of the Vertebral Column
“Headaches are more frequently caused by spinal stress than any other condition.”6 – Journal of Occupational Trauma
So how do you know if your neck is causing your headaches? Get it evaluated. Doctors of Chiropractic are well-trained in the evaluation and treatment of the spine and its effect on the nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. If your headaches are due to a condition of the spine that is treatable with gentle adjustments and therapy, a good chiropractor will let you know. If your headache is due to a more serious condition, a good chiropractor will let you know that as well and refer you to someone who would be better suited to handle your case.
With any therapy there are some slight, but still recognizable risks. There have been documented cases where patients suffered a stroke after a chiropractic adjustment to the neck. However, these cases are extremely rare. A good chiropractor will ask questions, as well as perform testing to evaluate if you are at risk for injury from a neck adjustment. A report on this in the Canadian Medical Association Journal states:
“The likelihood that a chiropractor will be made aware of an arterial dissection following cervical manipulation is approximately 1 per 8.06 million office visits, or 1 per 5.85 million cervical manipulations.”7
If you have concerns or are worried that you may be at-risk for a stroke, discuss this with your medical doctor or chiropractor of your choosing.
The following table lists just a few of the studies that have been conducted that demonstrate the effectiveness of adjustments on headache conditions.8
|Clinical Studies of Spinal Adjustments on Headaches|
|Author||# of Subjects||Results|
|Droz & Crot||332||80% successful|
So next time you have a headache, don’t just brush it off and cover it up with an Aspirin. Seek out a chiropractor and have them evaluate your neck to see if you’d be a good candidate for chiropractic treatment. Our bodies have a natural, in-born healing mechanism. It just needs to be allowed to work properly!
Be Healthy, Friends! – Dr. Mike
1) “Headache Disorders” (2014)