Chiropractic & Headaches

Did you know chiropractic treatment may help mitigate the pain caused by headaches?

To about 20% of the population, headaches are more than an occasional discomfort; they are chronic or recurrent.  They are the biggest cause of absenteeism from both work and school. 

Those who experience a headache know how debilitating they can be. It is easy to lose concentration and also, motivation. Your day seems to be cut short because productivity can decrease significantly. Not to mention the pain. So, read on to find out how chiropractic treatment can help a headaches.

Headache is one of the most frequent reasons people seek medical advice and is the primary complaint of about 10% of chiropractic patients.

What causes headaches?

Most people are unaware that in over 90% of cases, the cause of headaches are related to the musculoskeletal system.  The causes of muscular skeletal problems are poor posture, faulty body mechanics, poor diet, stressful living and loss of strength and flexibility.  These factors cause vertebral subluxations, ie. joint dysfunction.

Headaches may have a ‘sinister’ cause, such as accidental injury, a space-occupying lesion in the brain or other disease process.  In that case they are secondary headaches.  However the great majority of headaches are ‘benign’, not linked to any specific injury or disease, and are known as primary headaches.  Benign does not mean mild – symptoms may be frequent and severe.  The three most common types of primary headaches are migraine, tension-type headache (ttH) and cervicogenic headache (cGH).

Headaches have become a social and economic burden across the world.

Scientists have identified over 300 causes for headaches.  Various pain-sensitive structures and tissues including the skin, subcutaneous tissue, muscles, arteries, periosteal bone covering, and the upper cervical and facial nerves produce headaches when irritated or injured. Fortunately, only a handful of causes are responsible for the majority of headaches.


The most common of these headaches include:

• Cervicogenic- problems within the neck

• Muscle-tension- neck and upper back muscular spasms

• Post-traumatic- following head/neck trauma, i.e. whiplash

• Drug-induced- from analgesic overuse

• Migraines

• Cluster

Most recurrent headaches fall into three categories:

• A migraine: Severe, one-sided throbbing, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sounds

• Cervicogenic: Headaches caused by a disorder of the cervical spine, and often accompanied by neck pain

• Tension: This is a common headache experienced by many people — that dull, achy pain usually on both sides of the head.

What are the most common headaches Chiropractors treat?

The most common type of headaches are migraines, tension headaches and cluster headaches.  Migraines are recurring headaches lasting between 4 hours and 3 days.  They are moderate to severe in intensity with a throbbing or pulsating ache on one side of the head, typically associated with nausea and/or discomfort from light and sound.  Tension headaches are a mild to moderate pressing/tightening ache on both sides of the head, whereas cluster headaches are a severe throbbing pain arising high in one nostril and spreading behind the eye on that side.  The pain lasts15 minutes to many hours, occurring from 8 times a day to once every second day, and associated with watery eyes, nasal congestion, eyelid swelling, forehead and facial sweating.

Those who experience a headache know how debilitating they can be. It is easy to lose concentration and also, motivation. Your day seems to be cut short because productivity can decrease significantly. Not to mention the pain. So, read on to find out how chiropractic treatment can help a headaches.

How Does Chiropractic treatment Help A Headache?

Up to 25% of patients consult a chiropractor because they have a headache and for good reason. Chiropractic treatment of the neck, combined with adjustments to the spine, significantly relieve tension and headaches.

Each patient we see has an individual case, and treatment options will vary from person to person. The main goal with chiropractic care is to prevent unnecessary tension and irritation in the neck and head.

Spinal adjustments are also recommended for cervicogenic headaches. Studies show that chiropractic treatment provides extended pain relief and reduces the frequency and duration of this type of headache. After a spinal adjustment is completed, you may experience quick relief or your headache may gradually disappear. Either way, it’s important to follow up to evaluate your response to the treatment.

If a thorough examination reveals reduced range of motion, loss of normal spinal curves, or mechanical restrictions, chiropractic care should be considered.  After a complete examination, you’ll receive a care program designed for your unique spinal problem.  Chiropractic management includes adjustments or specific joint manipulation and a variety of other manual procedures for joints and soft tissues have a central role for patients with headaches and neck pain.  

Chiropractic adjustments, combined with other therapies such as trigger point therapy and massage, can release muscular tension and realign the skeleton to break the cycle of pain. Often patients with chronic headaches will find relief through chiropractic in just a few treatments, as muscles relax and nerve irritation is reduced.  At Health plus Chiropractic, we have many years experience managing various types of headaches and can identify the factors involved in simple and complex cases.

FAQ’s About Headaches

How can I ease the pain of a headache at home?

Most people reach for pain killers at the first sign of a headache, however, there are a few other methods you can use to help relieve the pain.

• An icepack on the affected area may numb and relieve the pain

• A heatpack to your neck and shoulders will help relax tight muscles

• Massaging the back of your neck may help relax tight muslces and reduce stress

• Avoid bright lights and noise

How long will it take before my headache goes away?

As mentioned before, every case is different, so results will also vary. Some patients may see results very quickly, while others may see a slow decline in the symptoms of their heaches over the course of several treatments.


What if chiropractic treatment doesn’t work for me?

Headaches are not a normal, there is always an underlying cause. Our goal is to provide chiropractic care to release tension and irritation to the muscles that may be causing the pain. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, a number of treatments may be required before you start to see noticeable results.  If you have not experienced results at the conclusion of your treatment plan, there may be another underlying cause of your symptoms, and we can refer you to a specialist who may be able to investigate further.

How can I prevent a headache?

Although some causes of headaches are unpreventable, there are still many steps you can take in your everyday life to help prevent the onset of a headache.

• Drink lots of water. Keep your body hydrated especially after sweating. Dehydration headaches often occur when the body loses essential fluids to function correctly.

• Manage Stress. Excessive, prolonged stress can often lead to tension headaches.

• Use the correct pillow – Selecting a pillow that is right for you will depend on your preferred sleeping position. If you sleep on your side, we recommend a thick, firm pillow to support your neck. Back sleepers should look at using a medium, thick pillow, and if you sleep on your stomach, a soft, relatively flat pillow would be a good choice. Our chiropractors can discuss this in more detail at your next appointment.

• Maintain correct posture. Poor posture puts undue stress on the spine and surrounding muscles which may trigger a headache.

The following activities can also contribute to headaches:

• Constantly looking down at your cell phone.

• Working on your laptop in your home office all day.

• Driving for hours without rest.

• Playing video games for hours.

• Clenching your jaw at night or during the day.

• Sleeping on your stomach.

1. Evidence-Based Guidelines for the Chiropractic Treatment of Adults With Headache JMPT 34: 5,  2011,  274-289

Massage Therapy & Headaches

Chiropractic headache relief at ParramattaMany headaches are caused by tight muscles in the head, neck, and top of the shoulders.  This type of headache is called a tension headache and may present with a tightness around the head or tension that spreads from the top of the shoulders into the base of the skull.

The highly specialised techniques our Massage Therapists use is called Trigger Point Therapy; which can effectively alleviate the pain and tension associated with tension headaches.

Tight muscles are identified and further investigated through palpation to search for ‘active’ trigger points.  There are tight, painful knots that can cause referred pain to travel along the muscle and associated soft tissues. The technique applied to release these knots is sustained pressure that is held until the muscles release, gaining instant relief.

Stretching and other muscle lengthening techniques often accompany the release of trigger points to ensure that muscles are free from spasm.  Referred pain and muscle tension are eased, encouraging optimal flexibility of the muscles.