The Headache Epidemic

Over the past few decades, chronic migraine headaches have increased

dramatically among the U.S population. There has been an approximately

60% increase in rates over the years. Most of this increase has occurred

in adults younger than 45 years, and women are slightly more affected than men.


One study showed that 80% of women and 70% of men reporting chronic

migraine headaches had at least one physician contact per year because of

migraine headaches; 8% and 7% of women and men, respectively, were

hospitalized at least once a year because of the condition. In addition, chronic

migraine headaches had a substantial impact on functional capacity: 4% of men

and 3% of women reported a chronic limitation in normal activity because of

migraine headaches and associated symptoms.


Clearly headaches are having a big impact on society today, with major dollars

spent on disability payments, hospitalizations, doctor visits, and medication

prescriptions. Most patients also self medicate with over-the-counter drugs.

The use of these drugs has increased exponentially over the past ten years.

All of this "treatment" has had little effect on the occurrence of headaches, or

shown a healthy way to any sort of lasting cure.


The chiropractic approach to headaches is much different. The chiropractor looks

at injuries to the spine (e.g. sprain/subluxation), which are affecting the nervous

system. Headaches are just one of many symptoms than can occur when the

spine is injured.


Rather than masking the symptom with ineffective and potentially unsafe

medications, the chiropractor treats the cause of the problem. Scientific studies

have shown this approach to have merit. The chiropractor will use specific

adjustments and postural exercises to improve how your spine functions, which

may in turn reduce your need for medications, lower the intensity of the pain, or

even eliminate the headaches all together. Depending on how badly your spine

is injured or how long you have suffered, will both affect how you may progress

during care.


The Importance of
Headache Diagnosis

All good doctors know the importance of getting an accurate diagnosis of a

patient's problem. But why is this so important? It's important because without

knowing what is the disease or injury, the treatment cannot be directed to the

actual problem.


Unfortunately, when it comes to headaches, many patients do not receive an

accurate diagnosis. If a patient were to see a doctor with a pain in the head

and the doctor were to conclude that you have a pain in your head (headache),

this tells little about the actual problem. In headache patients, we've become

very good at labeling problems-giving them a name. If the headache comes

and goes we call it episodic. If it occurs suddenly we call it acute, and if it occurs

over many years we say it is chronic. But are these labels really helpful?


The reality is everyday people show up in doctors offices, obtain cursory

examinations and walk out with a prescription for their head pain. Not all doctors

do this, of course, but with the time constraints of managed care and the

insurance company oversight, a doctor's visit is just not what it used to be.

When was the last time you had a house call from a doctor? Of course, the

worst case is when a patient acts as their own doctor, sees an advertisement

for a pill and does the diagnosing himself or herself!


In chiropractic, we may also label your headache as tension-type, migraine

or chronic, but a good chiropractor will not stop there. The label does not give

much of an indication of what needs to be done, and more importantly we still

do not know the CAUSE of the pain. Clinical experience and research over many

decades has shown that many headaches are actually caused by injuries to the

neck and spine. But if a doctor does not examine the neck, they may not

discover these hidden injuries. Sometimes an astute doctor will take a history

and it may be discovered you had a whiplash or other neck trauma, months or

even years earlier. This is important information to get at the cause.


The normal neck has a forward curve or arch, which keeps your head upright

and directly above your shoulders. When this curve is lost, the patient's head

is thrust forward in the classic "bad posture" stance. Making sure your neck is

both flexible, and in good postural alignment, is critical to maintaining good health.


What Is The Spinal Link?

Headaches are so common that we rarely question what is the cause. In the

case of headache, it can be something as simple as jet lag to something truly

ominous, such as a brain tumor.


If you suffer form headaches, it is important that you get the diagnosis right.

Remember that head pain is the symptom-it is not the actual problem. It is a

way that your body gives a signal that you have a problem. So it does require

some investigation. Despite what the commercials say on TV, just diagnosing

headache as a problem and driving to the drug store for a bottle of pills is not

the solution. Yet many of us suffer from daily headaches for years and years

and never my headache being caused by a lack of these pills in my



In chiropractic, we look at this problem differently from what you see in a drug

ad. First, you need to have a diagnosis and determine the cause for your head

pain. Once the cause is determined, then truly corrective action can take place.

We pay special attention to how your spine moves and its posture, especially the

neck region. Many different research studies have shown that spinal sprains and

injuries can produce head pain. And randomized clinical trials have shown that

when these spinal problems are addressed with adjustments, the headaches

largely disappear...and without the side effects commonly seen with prescription



But every case is different. It's impossible to know without an examination, if

you have a spinal problem, and whether this is the cause for your headache.

Our clinic always offers complimentary in-clinic and phone consultations with a

Doctor of Chiropractic.


If you are not getting your headaches under control and seemingly endless

consumption of pills is not doing the trick, then why not take a different and

more natural approach to your health. There is no headache bone in your spine,

or a button the chiropractor can push to make the headache go away. We

generally find, that once the spinal posture and motion is improved, the

headaches go away on their own. It can take one visit or several, but we generally see improvements in a short period time.


A New Perspective

It's remarkable to consider how many different types of pain relievers there are

for headaches. Not just the corner drug stores but also supermarkets,

convenience stores, and gas stations keep an abundant supply. Aspirin,

acetaminophen, and ibuprofen, is consumed daily in America by the truckloads.


Have you ever thought about how we approach a health problem or symptom?

Too often it's a knee-jerk reaction where we pop a pill for whatever ill. Rarely

do we ask why there is a headache? What is causing this headache?


It is very well established that there are many causes for headaches. Chemical

imbalances in the body can of course cause head pain such as in dehydration or



But in large part, the pill stock in gas stations isn't targeted to the occasional

hangover, it supplies the masses who suffer with tension headaches, migraines,

and headaches due to mechanical neck disorders (e.g. whiplash). So what is

the pill actually doing chemically? This varies from pill to pill. The side effects

can range from stomach bleeding, to liver and kidney problems. Most people

who take these medications have pain for years and decades. It is long-term

use that is especially detrimental to the body. Headaches are a chronic disease

and it is likely there will be triggers for you for many years to come.


Prescription NSAIDs and pain pills are usually much more powerful unless

you're doubling up on over-the-counter drugs. With prescription patches and

pills it is easy to get addicted if taken over the long run.


But there is a different way to see the problem than the chemical approach.

Although the mode of action of these different drugs changes, an important

fact remains that they do not treat mechanical problems of the neck. If your

headache is being caused by a joint injury in the neck, no amount of drug can

correct this postural fault.


How would I know if my headache is really a spine problem? It could be that

you notice stiffness in the neck or maybe it's harder to look over one shoulder.

If your headaches are accompanied by a lot of shoulder and neck stiffness and

tension, this is a sign of a spine cause. In some cases though, the spine

symptoms are very mild, so it is easy to see why patients rarely make the

connection in their minds.


Several clinical trials have shown chiropractic adjustments are effective for

patients with tension-type and migraine headaches. Less immediate side

effects were also noted compared to those getting drug treatment.


By identifying the cause of your headache, you've changed your thinking to looking past the pain and asking why?


Headaches Are Letting You Know.....

.....that there is a problem. Our bodies often let us know there is something not quite right, but are we listening? Too often in life, with hectic day to day schedules, getting the kids to school and so on, we cannot be troubled by these little warning signs. So we often just take a pill to mask the pain and get on with our lives. But is this the best way to react to a warning, a signal?

If the smoke alarm shrilled in your home, what would you do? I hope you would get out as quickly as possible and call 911. Would you say to yourself, "maybe it will go away?" I hope not. And if there were a fire, would stopping the alarm help a raging inferno? Most likely this will help things very little.


What if the alarm started to give little beeps (letting you know to change the battery). Would you change it with a fresh one or just remove it from the device?


I think most homeowners know the answers to these simple questions. And you would think that we would give the same correct concern when are bodies give us warning signals.

Unfortunately we often pay more attention to warning signs from our homes and automobiles (like that little clicking sound), than the most important house of all-our bodies.

When your neck muscles ache, this is a signal. When you turn your head and hear clicking sounds, this is another signal. And when a headache occurs, the signal is getting louder and louder. But are we listening?


It's better to think of these signals as just that, signals- not the actual problem. So when you take a drug to stop the signal, rarely is the actual problem being addressed.

So how are your signals and alarms?


Do you seem to take medications on a weekly or daily basis? A headache pill here and there is rarely an issue. But incorporating pain pills as part of your daily diet may be a health concern. They are not considered one of the five basic food groups. Side effects from these types of medications are rare, but the risks do increase with long-term use. Do you go through a small bottle each month?


Have You Ever Had A...
Sinus Headache?

There are a lot of different kinds of headaches and what causes them can range from the mundane (too little sleep) to the dangerous (a brain tumor). Some of the most common types of head pain are tension-type and migraine. If commercials on television are any indication, sinus problems including headaches, also seem to be quite common.


A recent study (J Headache Pain 2008;Jan 25) tried to determine just how many common headaches are actually caused by a sinus problem, such as an infection (e.g. sinusitis). Sinus pain may also include other problems such as fever, cough, nasal discharge and postnasal discharge. The researchers looked at 310 children who had long term and recurring headaches and the results were quite interesting. Only 1% of patients had a sinus problem that was producing the headache. About 40% of the patients with migraine and 60% of the patients with tension-type headache were misdiagnosed with a "sinus headache." The researchers concluded that children with chronic and recurrent headaches are frequently misdiagnosed with sinus headaches and may receive unnecessary sinusitis treatment.


As with any health condition it's important to have an accurate diagnosis before proceeding with treatment. It's also important to treat the cause of a problem rather than just its effects. Chiropractors look to the spine as often contributing to headache symptoms. It's not always the case, but frequently this is an overlooked area. Some scientific evidence suggests that when the spine is treated, patients with migraine and tension type headaches, in particular, can recover.