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Migraines and Chiropractic

Chiropractic and How it Can Help Migraines


            Migraines are a common worldwide challenge, and pharmacological management is often the first treatment of choice. Typically, migraines will affect one side of the head and can last anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days. But what causes migraines? The underlying causes of migraines are unknown. However, they are believed to be related to a mix of environmental and genetic factors. They run in families in about two-thirds of cases and rarely occur due to a single gene defect. While migraines were once believed to be more common in those of high intelligence, this does not appear to be true. A number of psychological conditions are associated, including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, as are many biological events or triggers.

            Manual therapy, or Chiropractic, is a non-pharmacological migraine treatment option that appears to have a similar effect as common drugs (Tylenol, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, etc.) on migraine frequency, duration, and intensity. To prove this a study was done to report all adverse events in a chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy randomized controlled trial. 70 people who suffered from migraines were put into 3 groups, the chiropractic manipulation, the fake chiropractic manipulation group, and the control group which used drugs. The participants were seen 12 times over a 3 month period. They would then have post treatment follow-ups at 6 months and 12 months.

            Each participant had to report that they suffered from at least 1 migraine per month. The difference between the 2 chiropractic groups is that one received the adjustment to the spine whereas the other group was not a specific contact and did not have as much velocity.

            Migraine days were significantly reduced within all groups from when the study began to the end of treatment. The main difference was that the effect continued in the chiropractic spinal manipulation and the placebo groups at 3, 6 and 12 month follow ups. In the drug group, the participants saw their headaches return to how they were before participating in the study. This means that the drugs resulted in a worse long-term outcome than doing nothing. The study also showed significant differences between the chiropractic spinal-manipulation group and the drug group at all post-treatment time points.

The chiropractic group reported that there was some local tenderness, tiredness and neck pain that came out after the adjustment, but all were short-lived. Rarely are any serious adverse events observed with chiropractic adjustments. However, adverse events in the migraine pharmacological groups are found to happen more commonly. The risk for adverse events during manual-therapy is substantially lower than the risk accepted in any medical context for both acute and prophylactic migraine medication.

One of the few things to take away from this study is that the group that received the “sham” or non-specific adjustment actually had better results than the drug group. Historically, chronic migraine drugs are associated with significant side effects.

So, chiropractic should be the first stop for people who suffer from migraines. Most of the time migraines are caused by a structural issue in the upper cervical (neck) spine and can be corrected through chiropractic manipulation. Although it is easier to take a pill to help the headache for the time being, it is not fixing the underlying cause of the problem, and the drugs have a significant impact on your body. If you or anyone you know suffers from migraine headaches, call a chiropractor and see the benefits for yourself.


Cory T. O’Lear-Zebroski, D.C.


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