is where my chiropractic story begins, where the seed of my
chiropractic passion has been planted. I have always had an
interest in my health and the health of others. I have always
had the focus of attaining a career in the health care area
but felt overwhelmed by the distinctly different schools of
thought. There were so many options, so much to choose from.
diagnosed with migraine headaches in 1995 after moving into
the wonderful weather of Calgary. I had all the typical
signs: nausea, sensitivity to light and sounds, the blind
spots in my vision that felt like I had someone in front
of me continually flashing a camera. In the allopathic arena
the diagnosis was simple: Classic Migraine. Treatment was
even easier, medicate me until I couldn’t feel the
headache anymore. Makes sense - or does it? The problem
I had with that approach was that I react very sensitively
to medication. I’m not saying the treatment did not
help. Certainly, the codeine covered up the pain but at
the same time threw me into bed. So the cycle began, pre-headache
signs -> severe headaches until I couldn’t handle
it anymore -> pop a pill -> sleep through the day.
did not fit into my life. This wasn’t right. It didn’t
make sense that something that was intended to help me could
hurt me in so many other ways. There had to be another way…
there was. It was then that I began to recognize the importance
of the nervous system and how it functions to maintain the
health of our body. It was then that I realized chiropractic
could help with so much more than back pain. This alternative,
non-pharmaceutical approach made sense, and since that first
adjustment I have made it my mission to help people understand
chiropractic and the effect it has on your nervous system.
Chiropractic has the ability to facilitate our bodies’
natural healing in respect to all aspects of health. This
article is set out to explain how chiropractic and headaches
are related. It will describe how lack of movement in the
cervical spine (neck), resulting in increased muscle tension
can result in a headache and how with specific chiropractic
adjustments the normal cervical spine range of motion can
be restored and the headache eliminated.
of men and 76% of women report at least 1 significant headache
24 million North Americans have suffered from migraine headaches!!
only the cost of lost work and productivity, migraine type
headaches have cost between $5.6-$17.2 billion each year!!
present themselves as a wide array of sensations.
They range from the dull ache that gnaws at the back of
your neck, to the severe, sharp, stabbing pain behind your
eyes, and everything in between. There are a variety of
reasons why people get headaches and it becomes frustrating
for those who are on the search to identify the culprit.
Our head rests on top of our cervical spine (our neck) much
like a golf ball sitting on a tee. This agility allows us
to have a better appreciation of our surroundings but the
resulting instability increases the potential for injury.
Our cervical spine consists of 7 vertebral bodies for structural
support, 6 intervertebral discs for shock absorption and
the numerous joints they contribute to. (See figure 1) There
is also support from the muscles and ligaments that are
important for proprioception, general posture, and protect
us against excess movement. The cervical spine houses the
spinal cord, which is a continuation from the brain and
gives rise to 8 pairs of spinal nerves that supply the head/upper
extremity and play a role in organ function. This intricate
connection works harmoniously when all of the parts involved
are functioning properly, but can be disastrous when function
is impeded! A slight distortion or dysfunction in any of
the parts will untilmately affect all of them and disrupt
the intricate balance.
head pain we experience with headaches is referred pain.
Referred pain is defined as pain that is initiated in the
deep structures of the body and referred to an area on the
body surface. Referred pain is quite a regular occurrence.
Often people feel pain in part of their body that is remote
from the tissue signaling the problem. What occurs with
referred pain is that the pain fibers of the deep structures
and the pain fibers of the skin connect in the same area
of the spinal cord with even some of the same neurons. This
becomes confusing for our body to interpret and results
in referred pain. Hence the reason we experience the pain
in both locations. Headaches are referred pain from deep
structures to the surface of the head. Now comes the question:
Which deep structures and why?
Cervicogenic headaches are headaches that originate from
your neck as a result of cervical joint and soft tissue
dysfunction. Many people experiencing cervicogenic headaches
show signs of restricted movement of the cervical spine,
especially the upper cervical vertebrae and occiput. There
is a unique relationship between the cranial nerves of the
brain and the spinal nerves of the cervical spine that gives
us the proof that cervicogenic headaches exist. There are
12 pairs of cranial nerves that are responsible for controlling
many of the body’s important functions. Cranial nerve
V is the trigeminal nerve. It is responsible for sensation
of our face and head (pain, temperature, light touch). The
upper cervical spinal nerves converge with the trigeminal
nerve and the trigeminocervical nucleus or “acting
traffic signal” and together they form a continuous
column of neurons. (See figure 2) It is these connections
that allow for interactions and misinterpretation of cervical
spine dysfunction to cause headaches, dizziness and face
pain. It is this connection that explains the neuroanatomic
basis of headaches referred from the neck. Change in one
aspect will result in change in the other.
does chiropractic fit with cervicogenic headaches?
Due to the fact that cervicogenic headaches are caused by
lack of movement in the upper cervical spinal joints, adjusting
those joints and getting them to move freely will stop the
referral of pain. It will correct the source of the referred
pain, thereby eliminating the need to refer. In addition
to this, recent studies have shown that chiropractic adjustments
not only relieve cervicogenic headaches but aids in the
elimination of tension and migraine type headaches indicating
that both tension and migraine type headaches have a putative
is a chiropractic adjustment?
Simply stated it is a quick osseous movement, usually done
by the chiropractors hands, that restores movement and facilitates
the nervous system. For those of you still a little wary
of neck adjustments, it may be interesting to know that
the risk of serious complications or death is 100-400 times
greater with the use of NSAIDS (anti-inflammatory drugs/pain
killers) than with cervical spinal manipulation (neck adjustment)
in the treatment of similar conditions! Your chiropractor
will discuss the adjustment and treatment in more detail
during the consultations. What you can expect on your visit
to a chiropractor is a thorough case history, a comprehensive
examination and if necessary x-rays accompanied with an
in-depth analysis to show the intensity of the diagnostic
rendering. If you are requiring further information immediately
check the additional chiropractic information available
on the Synergea website.
Meridel I. Foundations of Chiropractic Subluxation. Mosby-
Year Book, Inc. 1995.
Levangie, Pamela K. & Norkin, Cynthia C. Joint Structure
and Function: a Comprehensive Analysis 2nd Edition. F.A.
Davis Company, 1992.
Simon, Roger P. et al. Clinical Neurology 4th Edition. Appleton
and Lange, 1999.
New Choices in Natural Healing. Prevention Magazine Health
Books. Rodale Press, Inc. 1995.
additional information visit the
Synergea Family Health Centre Website
or call (403) 247-2947 in Calgary, Alberta.