Just about everyone has experienced a headache at some point, and many people are afflicted with them on a recurring basis. The popular solution when confronted with a headache is to opt for a quick fix in the form of a pill, an approach that follows an alarming nationwide trend of opioid overuse and abuse. Fortunately, chiropractors are adopting treatment strategies that rely less on medication to address the pain and more on an alternative approach that seeks out and corrects the root of the problem. And in the growing realm of treatment options, chiropractors have experienced increased success rates, helping their patients reduce the frequency and severity of their headaches.
Properly diagnosing the patient is key to effectively resolving the problem. The patient may report that they are suffering from migraines when in fact the precursor to their headaches is tension in the soft tissue. Doing a proper history on the patient is necessary to gain the upper hand on the first day. With an estimated 38 million migraine sufferers in the U.S., according to figures compiled by the Migraine Research Foundation, there’s a veritable laundry list of factors that could be behind any one patient’s headaches. Some triggers are entirely under a patient’s control, while others stem from happening in the world around them and may not be obvious—even to the sufferer.
Migraines are notoriously difficult to diagnose, and there could be other causes to rule out. Serious conditions, such as potential stroke or brain tumors are rare, but conditions such as sinus inflammation and external triggers including trauma tend to sit on the list of potential underlying causes. Any type of stressor can elicit a response in the central nervous system.There are typically four primary triggers that have been identified to cause migraines. The No. 1 reason is stress, along with food allergies, environmental agitation, and hormone imbalance. Other reasons occasionally crop up, but issues such as allergies and environmental factors—gluten, pollen, flashing lights—are so pervasive that they dominate the headache landscape.
They may also impact and be impacted by issues within the more traditional chiropractic realm. A person could be out of alignment, such as from a car accident or some other type of physical trauma. If they never get a massage or see a chiropractor, they might be more triggered by that stress.When devising a treatment plan, everything in the patient’s medical and surgical background should be factored into the initial diagnosis. We must consider if there are any chemical or emotional stressors that may be triggering it. In addition, we learn about past accidents or injuries the patient has experienced, along with previous pain treatments they may have undergone. Any of these factors could be causing or exacerbating the patient’s condition.
Another injury that has been found to have a significant impact on the occurrence of headaches and migraines points to the increasing number of concussions seen in patients today. Previously lumped under the more generic “brain injury” term, head trauma can set off a storm of physical problems, not just headaches. Experiencing a concussion can bring about a lot of other symptoms such as brain fog, blurred vision, memory problems, and emotional upsets—they’re all associated with head injury. Sifting through the patient’s concerns and identifying which are causes and which are symptoms will gives us the right information to develop an effective treatment plan. Not to mention, any force that is strong enough to cause a concussion will absolutely affect the alignment and soft tissue in the neck and upper back region of the spine.
While no two patients respond the same to any given treatment strategy, assessing each patient’s progress is paramount to providing patients with relief. Primary indicators that we typically use to help determine how a patient is responding are changes in headache frequency, duration, and severity. Some long time migraine sufferers achieve significant improvement after only a few sessions, while others follow a slower track. Some treatment plans may also take longer if certain environment factors, such as correcting a poorly fitting chair that creates tension, or making lifestyle changes, such as to stop smoking are also addressed.
Headaches with a purely mechanical cause may show improvement relatively quickly—sometimes after just a handful of visits. But, if it’s a migraine it’s a longer process, because there’s so much information that’s necessary to properly diagnose the patient. It sometimes takes longer to zero-in on the cause of migraines and the patients themselves may not know how to (or may not choose to) contribute fully to the process.
Educating the patient on what to expect is paramount in keeping the patient on their recommended treatment plan. History has shown that patients who follow their treatment plan see greater long term success as opposed to those who do not finish, seeking only a temporary “fix”. Success rates using chiropractic when compared to treating headaches with oral medications are shown to be higher as well.