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Can Chiropractic Help Headaches?

Headaches are one of the most common types of pain that people experience on a regular basis.  Researchers estimate that nine out of ten adults suffer from headache pain at some point, helping to put the sales of pain medication through the roof.
Both the frequency and severity of headaches vary greatly from individual to individual.  They range from occasional to near-constant and from mild to throbbing.  Some are bad enough to cause nausea and become debilitating, keeping the sufferer from being able to work and enjoy leisure activities.  Although painkillers are usually the first resort for those suffering from a headache, chiropractic care can help lessen both the incidence and severity of this condition.

The largest percentage of headaches (approximately 95%) fall into a category referred to as “primary headaches”.  These are typically caused by tension in the muscles in the neck area or a misalignment (subluxation) of the neck vertebrae.  A primary headache refers to the kind of headache that is not a symptom of some other underlying illness.  According to Dr. Roz Griffiths from Chiropractic Balance in Wellington, “Today, people engage in more sedentary activities than they used to, and more hours are spent in one fixed position or posture.  This can increase joint irritation and muscle tension in the neck, upper back and scalp, causing your head to ache.”

The root cause of headaches due to both tension and misalignment is nerve irritation.  The nerve fibers at the base of the neck that connect with the spinal cord and brain become irritated due to muscle tension or to misaligned vertebrae pressing on the spinal cord.  A study performed by researchers at the University of Maryland found that there was a link between tension in the muscles at the base of the neck and headache pain.

In a study conducted by the New Zealand government, the majority of those suffering recurrent headaches from spinal misalignment found that their headaches were relieved by chiropractic manipulation, and many were found to still be pain-free in the two-year follow-up.  A study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics found that spinal manipulation such as that used by chiropractors is more effective and longer-lasting for treating tension headaches than the use of commonly prescribed pain medication.

Your chiropractor can perform a thorough examination to identify the cause of your headache pain.  Depending on your specific circumstances, he or she may then perform a chiropractic adjustment to take the pressure off irritated nerves, easing headache pain.  Your chiropractor can also offer recommendations as to diet, exercise and ergonomics, along with proper posture and relaxation techniques to keep neck tension to a minimum.

For almost 3 months, I was experiencing chronic pain in my neck and shoulder.  As a result, I was experiencing headaches, I couldn’t turn my head and I lost strength in my left arm.  On the 27th July, I went to Roz seeking some relief.  After a month of 2 consultations a week, then 3 individual sessions, I am now virtually pain free, the headaches are no more, I can turn my head and strength has been restored in my left arm!  I must admit, I was very sceptical as I have had a not so memorable experience with a Chiropractor in the past, but all I can say is…….the relief!  Thanks Roz:)

Dr. Roz Griffiths says, “Doctors of chiropractic undergo extensive training to help their patients in many ways – not just back pain.  They know how tension in the spine relates to problems in other parts of the body, and they can take steps to relieve those problems.

Here are some other handy tips to help headaches at home:

1. Drink Water or eat water rich foods-Inadequate hydration may lead you to develop a headache. In fact, studies have demonstrated that chronic dehydration is a common cause of tension headaches and migraines.Thankfully, drinking water has been shown to relieve headache symptoms in most dehydrated individuals within 30 minutes to three hours.

2. Have some magnesium-Magnesium is an important mineral necessary for countless functions in the body, including blood sugar control and nerve transmission. Interestingly, magnesium has also been shown to be a safe, effective remedy for headaches. Evidence suggests that magnesium deficiency is more common in people who get frequent migraine headaches, compared to those who don’t. You may wish you take magnesium as a supplement or try an Epson salt bath.

3. Limit Alcohol-alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it widens blood vessels and allows blood to flow more freely.Vasodilation may cause headaches in some people. It also acts as a diuretic, causing the body to lose fluid and electrolytes through frequent urination. This fluid loss can lead to dehydration, which can cause or worsen headaches.

4. Get adequate sleep. Aim for a good 7-9 hours.

5. Avoid Foods High in Histamine such as aged cheeses, fermented food, beer, wine, smoked fish and cured meats.

6. Use essential oils. Applying peppermint or lavender essential oil to the temples has been shown to reduce the symptoms of tension headaches.

7.  Use a cold compress-Applying cold or frozen compresses to the neck or head area decreases inflammation, slows nerve conduction and constricts blood vessels, all of which help reduce headache pain.

8. Try an elimination diet-Studies suggest that food intolerances can trigger headaches in some people. To discover if a certain food is causing frequent headaches, try an elimination diet that removes the foods most related to your headache symptoms. Aged cheese, alcohol, chocolate, citrus fruits and coffee are among the most commonly reported food triggers in people with migraines

9. Relax with yoga-Practising yoga is an excellent way to relieve stress, increase flexibility, decrease pain and improve your overall quality of life. Taking up yoga may even help reduce the intensity and frequency of your headaches.

10. Avoid strong smells. Strong odours like those from perfumes and cleaning products can cause certain individuals to develop headaches. To make a cold compress, fill a waterproof bag with ice and wrap it in a soft towel. Apply the compress to the back of the neck, head or temples for headache relief.

11. Avoid Nitrates and Nitrites-Nitrates and nitrites are common food preservatives added to items like hot dogs, sausages and bacon to keep them fresh by preventing bacterial growth.

12. Get some exercise-Exercise increases blood circulation which can help to relieve a headache. And if you’re exercising outside, the fresh air can also be beneficial! Exercise benefits and relaxes the whole body, so most sufferers of tension headaches experience marked relief with the addition of exercise.

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