How Does a Chiropractor Help With Headaches?

So if you find yourself in the middle of a raging headache, what do you do? Well, there is oftentimes a difference between the necessary immediate action to take, and the beneficial long-term action. You’ll learn in just a bit how chiropractic care can help improve the root cause of headaches. 

Unfortunately, we’ve all had them. Headaches come with many different nuances, but traditionally present with some form of pain in the head. Just as is the case for all human health concerns, though, this head pain can always be traced back to a root cause. The issue with many at-home or traditional headache care models is that they seek to stop the pain, instead of the issue causing the pain

Here at Hill Functional Wellness, as chiropractors and functional health care practitioners, we take the whole person’s health presentation into consideration. Headaches can arise for many, many reasons – some of them more physical in nature and some of them physiological in nature. So if we are only concerned with quelling the pain, we can miss the boat as to what the body is telling us it needs.

Why Do Headaches Happen? 

When you dive in to the root causes of headaches, it becomes immediately apparent that there are many, many reasons why headaches can occur. While some may be caused by more serious physiological concerns like blood clots or tumors, the majority of headaches are the result of biomechanical issues, lifestyle choices or regular daily activities. 

Common reasons headaches occur, include: 

  • Misaligned spine 
  • Tight neck/upper back muscles
  • Poor posture 
  • Jaw dysfunction (TMJ) 
  • Lack of water 
  • Poor diet 
  • Sleeping habits 
  • Stress 
  • Chewing gum 

In addition to the variety of causes, there are several types of headaches that may plague an individual: 

  • Tension headaches
  • Cluster headaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • Allergy or sinus headaches
  • Hormone headaches
  • Caffeine headaches
  • Exertion headaches
  • Hypertension headaches
  • Rebound headaches
  • Post-traumatic headaches 

As you can see, the name of the headache reflects at least part of what is causing the issue. The most common form of headaches we see in our office are tension, TMJ, and migraine headaches. 

Tension headaches are categorized as a dull or aching sensation all over your head. Tenderness around the neck, shoulder, and forehead is also a symptom. These headaches are often a result of stress loads but can become a more chronic condition if untreated. 

TMJ headaches are primarily caused by dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint(s) (TMJ). When these joints become dysfunctional – oftentimes from clenching, grinding, or excessive chewing – they have the ability to irritate a few of the major nerves going into the face and lateral head.  Irritation in this fashion invariably leads to pain in the form of a headache.

Migraine headaches are characterized by intense pulsing pain that feels like it comes from deep inside the head. These headaches are more severe and can lead to light and noise sensitivity — along with possible nausea and vomiting. One theory is that migraines are caused by blood vessel issues and/or inflammatory responses in the head and brain.

How a Chiropractor Treats Headaches 

Here at Hill Functional Wellness, one of the biggest reasons patients visit us is for headache resolution. We have a reputation in our community for helping our patients become independent – which means they are less in need (or not in need at all!) of chiropractic care over the long-term because we have helped them address the root cause of their headaches.  

The foundation of any successful treatment for headaches is a proper assessment and diagnosis. If you don’t understand what is causing your headache, you will end up chasing your tail trying to mask the pain indefinitely. Dulling the pain medically usually only delays the inevitable.

So establishing an understanding of that underlying reason is priority number one. We start with a thorough analysis of the symptoms and surrounding context clues, pair that with an x-ray assessment and dietary/lifestyle analysis to rule out other contributing factors. When a comprehensive understanding is in hand, crafting a customized solution becomes the plan.

Once we feel we may have a starting point, a treatment course could include a number of options: 

Spinal adjustment: Sometimes the misalignment and immobility of vertebrae in the spine can cause nerve irritation or damage, leading to headaches. By mobilizing the vertebrae to restore their full function and structurally restoring proper biomechanics, the surrounding muscles and nerves can also relax to their proper states — easing tension and pain. 

Soft tissue therapy: Muscle tightness is another common reason nerves become upset. When muscles in the neck, face, or jaw become overused, strained, or injured, they become tense and rigid. This can pull or push against nerve endings and lead to headaches. Soft tissue therapy can help restore healthy muscle tone. 

Lifestyle care: Another way we might help treat chronic headaches could include daily behavior modification. A poor diet that is high in sugars or refined polyunsaturated oils are not good for the body or brain. Lack of exercise and stress management also does not help keep cortisol, glucose, and other nutrient levels in check. We can help advise about an optimal diet, and when coupled with a sustainable exercise and stress management regimen it will help reduce your headache prevalence and severity. 

Although the majority of headache cases are of the categories listed above, occasionally headaches are caused by other issues. 

If we come across a headache trigger that is of immediate concern, we are well equipped to know where the first step should be taken. As an example, headaches can be caused by acute hypertension – which is an immediate risk for stroke or other vascular damage. If we find signs of this, we will immediately refer to the correct medical physician to address the impending harm. It is important to communicate this, because one of the most critical parts of the assessment is knowing when chiropractic care is not the right solution. Doing what is right is much more important than doing what is expedient.

Final Thoughts 

Headaches are one of the most common musculoskeletal issues humans have to deal with. No matter if they are frequent or infrequent, mild or severe, there is always an underlying reason for their presence. When this is your starting point, it becomes less important to hyper-focus on getting rid of pain and much more important to address that pain’s underlying cause. Chiropractic care is a great way to make this a reality. Hill Functional Wellness is well-equipped to help you with your headaches and teach you how to become independent..