The cervical spine is often implicated in the onset and/or presence of headaches. This is due in part to the first three cervical nerve roots exiting out of the spine and enter the back of the head through a particularly thick group of muscles attached to the base of the skull along the nuchal ridge.
Anything that tightens up the upper cervical musculature can give rise to headache, and certainly stress has the unique characteristic of increasing neck muscle tension. Cervicogenic headache and tension-type headache are the two most commonly used terms associated with neck dysfunction. Migraine headaches are a vascular type of headache, and these too can be greatly helped by spinal manipulation of the upper cervical region, though the mechanism of how this helps is less understood.
When patients see a chiropractor to treat their headaches, the paperwork they complete may include questionnaires regarding how their headaches impact both their wellbeing and their day-to-day activities. This data can be used to monitor a patient’s progress over time. Similarly, patients may be asked for data at each visit regarding the frequency, intensity, and duration of their headaches since their last visit in order to determine if a new approach to treatment should be considered.
Chiropractic offers multiple types of treatments with the goal of reducing neck and headache pain, restoring function to the vertebrae in the cervical spine—especially in the upper cervical region—and teaching the patient preventative methods of self-management such as exercises, ice and/or heat, and dietary modifications.
Because chiropractic includes an evaluation of the entire musculoskeletal system, a doctor of chiropractic may spot biomechanical faults lower in the body that may play a role in the headache process. A good example of this is a flat foot with ankle pronation, which creates a knocked-kneed effect and a drop in the pelvis on the same side. This can affect the curvature of the spine, causing stability issues up into the neck. In this case, prescriptive foot orthotics to correct the ankle pronation problem and/or a heel lift to correct a short leg can have dramatic benefits for headache sufferers, not to mention other spinal complaints such as low back pain.