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How Can a Chiropractor Help With Headaches?

A headache is a very common problem. Ninety percent of American adults suffer from a headache [1]. Some may have it occasionally, while others, frequently. Patients who have headaches may describe the pain as throbbing or dull, one-sided or generalized. Others may also feel nauseous because of their headache, while a few may complain headaches that are just too severe and debilitating.

What is a headache?

Headache is the pain affecting the head, neck, or scalp. It has two main types:

1. Primary headache, which has two subtypes, namely:

a. Tension-type headache – the most common type of a headache that affects 78 percent of the population [2]
b. Migraine headache – the less common type of a headache (16 percent of the population) which is usually accompanied nausea and sensitivity to noise and light [2]

2. Secondary headache – the type of a headache caused by other conditions, such as tumors, fasting, head trauma, and sinusitis

Headache self-management

Most people who experience headaches treat their pains at home. Taking pain medications (acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, or aspirin), using some relaxation techniques, and resting in a quiet and dark room usually, do the trick to alleviate the pain. Nevertheless, when a headache persists, it is time to seek the help of a chiropractor.

How does a chiropractor evaluate headaches?

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for identifying and managing the exact cause of your headache. Your chiropractor will get an in-depth history of your headache and your past health problems. He or she may ask you the following questions about your headache:

• Quality of your headache
• Location of the pain
• The timing of a headache
• How long the headache lasts
• The things you do to alleviate it
• What you feel before and after the attack

Your doctor will also perform a thorough physical examination on you. Aside from these steps, he or she may also order a battery of tests, such as laboratory tests, x-rays, and in some cases, imaging studies, such as magnetic resonance imaging, to develop a specific management plan for your condition.

How does a chiropractor treat headaches?

Your chiropractor will treat your headache depending on its cause. He or she will only treat primary headaches and those headaches caused by joint and neck muscle problems. Doctors of chiropractic medicine usually refer patients with secondary headaches to medical specialists for further evaluation and management.

Chiropractors use three treatment modalities to manage headaches, namely:

Joint Manipulation. Joint manipulation and joint mobilization are the most common management procedures for patients with tension headaches. According to the American Chiropractic Association, this treatment modality serves as an effective procedure in alleviating pain in patients experiencing tension headache [3]. reveals that spinal and joint manipulation compares favorably to light massage in resolving headaches that originate from the neck area. In fact, approximately 80 percent of patients with this kind of a headache improve with this spinal and joint manipulation [4].

Massage. Massage is another treatment modality recommended by the American Chiropractic Association [1]. Massaging the soft tissues of the head and neck area helps trigger an involuntary yet predictable relaxation response from the body. It also decreases soft tissue inflammation and improves blood and lymph circulation that releases the pressure around the nerves and deeper connective tissues resulting in the resolution of pain [5].

Nutritional advice. Poor diet can trigger headache development, says the National Headache Foundation. A well-balanced diet is important to prevent headaches [6]. Aside from a healthy a diet, your chiropractor may also advise you to limit your caffeine consumption (because caffeine can alter the effectiveness of other headache treatments), avoid eating extremely hot and extremely cold foods, stop eating improperly stored high protein foods if you are sensitive to tyramine, and stay away from alcohol if you experience a headache drinking it.


1. American Chiropractic Association: Headache & Chiropractic
2. American Headache Society: Epidemiology and Impact of Headache and Migraine
3. American Chiropractic Association: Headache Prevention and Treatment
4. Spinal Manipulation Effective for a Cervicogenic Headache, Study Finds
5. University of Minnesota: How does massage work?
6. National Headache Foundation: Headache Sufferer’s Diet

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