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Chiropractors & Headaches: My Deep, Dark Secret

See end of post for supporting links. Including them in the text makes a mess of the first paragraph.

I’ve been seeing a chiropractor for a few weeks. A gazillion people have recommended it over the years — everyone knows someone whose headaches have gone away after chiropractic. But I never intended to go to one. Not only is it potentially dangerous, evidence of its efficacy is mixed. And I’m well aware that many people make spurious conclusions of cause and effect.

You know I’m willing to try all sorts of alternative and complementary treatments. As long as there’s no chance the treatment could harm me. I’m still wary of chiropractic, but I just had my third adjustment of the week.

My neck and lower back have been acting up for the last six months. It seems more likely that a chiropractor can relieve back pain than headaches. What pushed me over the edge is Kelly’s, my friend and yoga teacher, trust in this particular chiropractor.

Out of everyone I know, Kelly is the last person who would endanger her body. Her extensive knowledge of anatomy and movement combined with her insistence on safety gives me confidence.

My back and neck do feel better, but I have to ask if the worsening of my migraines is coincidental or related to the chiropractic. Today started out well and I still feel good. I’ll give it a few more weeks.

19 Responses to Chiropractors & Headaches: My Deep, Dark Secret

  1. emily says:

    my experience w/chiropractic (for back pain only, this was before i had problems w/headaches) was that as long as i kept GOING to the chiropractor, everything was ok. but being a young and fairly healthy teenager i felt like he should be teaching me how to improve my situation – how to move towards fewer and fewer visits. this was never mentioned, and even when i requested it, i was never taught exercises or stretches that actually helped.

    everyone’s experience is different, and i’ve been to several chiropractors. to me, that’s the most important thing, esp. since so little of it is often covered by insurance. i don’t want to be permanently committed to seeing a chiropractor….

    i ended up finding a great deal of relief w/pilates. (in case you wonder how the story ends). :)

    *********
    Did any of your chiropractors teach you exercises?

    I’m seeing the chiropractor in conjunction with practicing yoga regularly. As far as my back goes, I see the chiropractor as loosening things up while I’m strengthening my core.

    So maybe you and I will have similar outcomes!

    Kerrie

  2. Bob Cuddy says:

    At the risk of sounding like a spammer you may be interested in knowing about a new method of relieving headaches and neck pain. Many headaches are caused by disc problems and trapezius muscle problems. My problem was pain from a herniated neck disk. I ultimately invented and patented the SquidFace and ComfyRest pillows that do relieve my neck pain plus the periodic headaches associated with reoccurrence. Hopefully it may help you. Many of the benefits are on my website. http://www.SquidFace.com

    ********
    Looks interesting. Thanks for telling us about it.

    Kerrie

  3. Christina P says:

    Caveat: This is a theory-in-evolution.

    It has been my observation that many chronic migraine sufferers have chronic neck problems, with muscle pain, spasms, and in some cases, loss of mobility in the upper cervical spine (with prominence of one or more vertebrae.) I have published these findings. These are not individuals with a history of trauma, nor is there disk herniation. In some cases, the neck abnormalities have resolved in as few as three or four months with an appropriate preventative medication regimen.

    It is usually not quite that easy. More often, adjunctive treatment with a physical modality is needed, whether it be physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, or chiropractic treatment. In all cases, it is necessary that the practitioner in question understand headache and the neck, which is not true of everyone who holds the credential in question.

    And yes–a strengthening exercise regimen specific to the cervical spine is essential to maintaining the benefit gained.

    *********
    Thanks for the information. My tendency is to be skeptical of every treatment — sometimes to the point of not seeing the other side of the story.

    As you know, it’s tough to find a provider who knows about headache. When I can’t find anyone with more headache education, I’m tempted to fall back on a provider’s personal experience with migraine as enough “expertise” in headache. This is clearly not an adequate substitute. The chiropractor I’m seeing has migraine but she doesn’t seem to know much about them beyond her experience.

    Kerrie

  4. ErinM says:

    I use Chiropractic care to control my migraines. At first, I went once or twice a week to try and “fix” things. She gave me neck stretches to do at least once a day. I did them. At it seemed to help.

    Now, about six months later, I just go in once in a while (maybe once a month?) when I’m feeling tight or am feeling a migraine coming on. I also do extra stretches at home. Often, it doesn’t make the migraine go away… but it usually stops it from getting any worse.

  5. Ted says:

    I’ve been suffering from CDH for 2.5 years now, and I’ve tried lots of things. I, too, finally tried a chiropractor near me. (He is also an acupuncturist, and my wife had good luck with him doing acupuncture for some shoulder pain.)

    I tried it for 2 months, 2 times a week. Also incorporated acupuncture. I had no lessening in the frequency nor severity of my headaches.

    I am also very skeptical of chiropractic. There appears to be a lot of hand-waving and semi-medical mumbo-jumbo being bandied about.

    ********
    Sorry to hear the chiropractic and acupruncture didn’t help. I’m with you on the “semi-medical mumbo-jumbo.” But I do wish I were one of the people who it helped!

    Kerrie

  6. Angel says:

    Ok…at the risk of being the party pooper…there was a Medscape article I got the other day about the risks of chiropractic care when you have headaches/neck pain.

    I just started acupuncture (when I got mono, darnit) and have been doing auricular therapy. No real changes in my headaches, but other things feel better.

    I’ve had alot of people recommend a chiro, but I’ve had 2 bad experiences, and it’s just not for me.

    *********
    Thanks for the info.

    I didn’t see that article. Do you remember the title of it?

    Kerrie

  7. brightbite says:

    I have gone to a chiropractor for 16 visits. The pain moved around, but ultimately, I still get migraines to this day. The chiro I went to see used questionable methods. Tips on choosing a chiro can be found on quackwatch.com. In all honesty, you should not have to keep going to the chiro to experience pain relief. If pain doesn’t improve within a few visits, it is probably beyond the scope of a chiro. I know my migraines aren’t *just* due to neck and back problems.

  8. Matthew says:

    Besides the chiropractor, make sure that you are avoiding artificial sweeteners like Splenda(sucralose), Apsartame, Saccharin, and Acesulfame Potassium, as they have been shown to have a substantial correlation with migraines.

    Massage therapy and exercises can also be beneficial.

  9. Dr Darin says:

    As with any profession, one can find mixed results when seeking relief from a chiropractor. As a chiropractor myself, I feel the need to suggest looking for a chiro that SPECIALIZES in headaches. Too many chiro’s don’t specialize in any one or two things.
    And don’t be afraid to try another one if you don’t get the results you hoped for the 1st time. Getting an adjustment for a headaches is statistically 400 times safer than taking an aspirin for that very same headache. Ask any medical malpractice insurance carrier.

  10. Dr Carr says:

    Kerrie let me start by saying I was blown away by your website… the amount of work you put into this is amazing!! I’m sorry you have a reason to do so…headaches, specifically migraines, suck.

    I have to agree with Dr Darrin about chiropractors: Some of them will be good, some will be bad, most are just average. It’s like any other profession. It’s remarkable how people judge our profession by the one or two bad apples, lumping the chiropractor for all of chiropractic.

    I do have some miracle stories with headaches of all types, but the one I like most is cervicogenic in nature. I’ve written a short article about it on my website, http://www.dynamicclinic.com, under the “articles” section. This headache type is the one type of headache that responds best to my care, and I certainly think that the risks of chiropractic care are vastly overrated.

    FYI, I was reading the SquidPillow guy’s note: there is no disc at C1/C2, the source region for most neck-based headaches.

  11. Jeff Parker says:

    I experience headaches too frequent for my liking…

    But I agree, adjustments do help…

    If I have a really bad headache, and I get adjusted by my Dr. Tuttle, I my headache is usually gone within 30 mins… I strongly recommend Chiropractic adjustments for headaches…

  12. Jeff Parker says:

    I get headaches all the time…

    Whenever I get adjusted, my headaches typically are gone within 10 minutes from the adjustments… Maybe try a different Chiro for your migraines?

  13. Carlos Kelly says:

    my dad is a chiropractor and he often amazes me how he could treat my sprains.”`’

  14. MS says:

    I suffered from migraines for years before someone told me to try chiropractic. My migraines were so severe that I was forced to lay bedridden for days. I saw doctors who prescribed pills and injections. Some gave me temporary relief, while most of them were ineffective. Seeing a chiropractor was the best medical decision I’ve ever made. It’s affordable, safe, and keeping me migraine free. I swear by chiropractic and would recommend it to anyone who suffers from migraines.

  15. blake randles says:

    Do you know how many people die a year from a hospital born infection, or from surgical errors, or even from tyelonol. But you still do those things. Chiropractors have an extreme amount of education. More anatomy than medical doctors. Please dont base your opinions on heresay and fear.

  16. david says:

    after experiencing a major family trajedy and then being sepperated for a year from my wife and kid while serving over seas, i built up so much stress that i had an ongoing headache that lasted the next five years. In this time, i had gone to doctors, psychiatrists and even a priest trying to figure out what was wrong. I did not know weather I was depressed or what. they put me on valluim, prosac and anything else they could try, Nothing worked!
    till one day i went to see a Chiropractor for a back ache brought on by improper lifting.
    Nothing short of a miracle when he made the first adjustment it was like someone opened up the floodgates and let out all my stress. my Headaches went away instantly and that night I wanted to cry just to think how long i had suffered because no doctor ever suggested a chiropractor….then i thought back to time in Korea when my barber (who also did message) had suggested that my neck was really tite. next time i’ll listen to my barber first.
    not to say that chiropractors can cure all headaches, but when your hurting and nothing else works, don,t count them out as an option.

  17. Stephanie says:

    I started getting migraines when I turned 13 years old. I would get the aura in my eye that would destruct my vision and then about 20-30 minutes later, I would be in excruciating pain that included cold sweats and vomiting for the next 5 or 6 hours. I tried many different types of medication, which I absolutely hated taking. When the medicine wouldn’t work and I would get sick, it would make it even more miserable having that come back up. I had a migraine every 4-6 weeks and it was miserable!

    I went to a chiropractor about 4 years after my migraines started. In my first few weeks, I had more migraines than usual, but they didnt seem as severe. They would only last a few hours and I wouldn’t get as sick during them. It was horrible to go through that, but it was almost comforting to know that something she was doing was affecting my headaches. I kept with it and after about 2 months, my migraines became very infrequent. I now get adjusted by a chiropractor every 2 or 3 weeks, sometimes longer if I’m feeling good. I dont remember the last time I actually got sick during a migraine and I no longer get the aura in my eye beforehand (which usually proved to be the worst of the worst). I now get headaches maybe 3 or 4 times a year.

    There are a lot of quacks out there that think they can cure anything, but there are also some really great, intelligent doctors. Look for someone who spends time with you. My chiropractor that I go to now focuses on muscle work along with adjustments. He’s given me many exercises to do for strengthening. He’s awesome

  18. Kelly says:

    I started seeing a chiropractor when my lower back started acting up again. Acupuncture has always worked in the past but I was convinced to try chiropractic care when I met a chiropractor through mutual friends. They all swore by him and he even sold me on the long term benefits of seeing a chiro.

    Before I started, he read my x-rays and said my neck needed to be adjusted too. I have never been one to crack my neck and have never had any neck issues or migraines. I was leery about messing with something that wasn’t causing me problems but I trusted him and let him adjust it.

    That was a huge mistake. I immediately started getting headaches. The chiropractor told me that could be normal for the first few weeks and not to worry. However, four months in I was still having headaches and started having hearing problems as well. He said in all of his career he’s never seen this happen. I told him to stop touching my neck hoping that everything would go back to normal. It has now been almost a year and my ears still need to be popped all the time and the headaches aren’t gone, though my back is feeling better.

    I should have quit a long time ago but because he’s in my circle of friends, I continued seeing him with the hopes that he could fix the problems he caused. I am now back to seeing the acupuncturist to help with the migraines and I’m pissed at myself for not sticking with my better judgement. I can only hope that over time, everything will slide back to where it was and all of the side effects go away.

  19. Trish says:

    I have been having migraines pretty frequently (about 5-10 per month) for about 3 years now. I have seen 2 neurologists, I’ve tried acupuncture, all the beta blockers, some of the Ca Channel blockers, butterburr, feverfew, CoQ10, Magnesium, biofreez, icy hot, arnica rubs, hot packs, cold packs, pills that knock you out so you sleep through the migraine, pills that take the edge off, pills to prevent, pills to treat… pretty much everything.

    My most recent attempt to combat the migraines was to go to a chiropractor (I’ve been twice, and will probably quit now) and his adjustments triggered my migraines about 20 seconds after he finished. They went from 0-level 9 in about 30 seconds instead of the usual 90 minutes or so I usually get before full incapacitation. He says I am the first migraine client he’s ever had who has had this reaction, but I think it’s pretty conclusive that this is just not going to work. My Neurologist also has told me to discontinue this treatment…

    The only thing I have had much luck with is massage therapy whenever I am feeling stressed and my back and neck muscles get too tense. I also take 200 mg of ibuprofin 2x a day for 3 days before, during and 2 days after my period as a preventative measure.

    It’s nice to know that there are others who aren’t having much luck with treatment though.

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