Chiropractic Care: An Effective Treatment for the Pain of Migraine Headache

Chiropractic Care: An Effective Treatment for the Pain of Migraine Headache

Headache is the most common form of pain we experience and can be burdensome and disabling. Headaches are a major reason cited for days missed at work or school and are responsible for a large proportion of visits to the doctor including chiropractic physicians. To add insult to injury, it’s possible to have more than one type of headache at the same time. Pain can range from mild to disabling and may be accompanied by symptoms of nausea or increased sensitivity to noise or light, depending on the type of headache. Some experience headaches once or twice a year, while others may experience headaches more than 15 days a month. Incidence of headaches may ease or even disappear for a long period of time and recur later in life. Nearly two out of three children will have a headache by age 15 and more than nine in ten adults will experience a headache sometime in their life.

Brain tissue itself does not feel the pain of headache because it lacks pain-sensitive nerves. What is happening is that sensory receptors for painful stimuli (nociceptors) react to headache triggers sensation. These triggers can be things like stress, particular foods or scents, or use of medicines. Neural messages are relayed through the trigeminal nerve(1) to the thalamus, the center for the relay of sensory information and pain perception and headache pain is consequently felt. Still other parts of the brain may also become part of the process, causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, trouble concentrating, and other neurological symptoms.

There are basically two general classification of headache: primary and secondary.

Primary headaches occur independently and are not caused by another health disorder. It's uncertain what sets the process of a primary headache into motion but we do know that a series of interconnected events affecting blood vessels and nerves inside and outside the head causes pain signals to be sent to the brain. Migraine, cluster, and tension-type headache are familiar types of primary headache.

Secondary headaches are symptoms of an actual health condition that causes pain-sensitive nerve endings to be pressed on, pulled or pushed out of place. They can arise from underlying conditions such as fever, infection, overuse of medication, stress including emotional, high blood pressure, psychiatric illness, head trauma, stroke, tumors, and nerve disorders(2).

The migraine headache

Lasting from four to 72 hours, migraine headaches are recurring attacks of moderate to severe throbbing or pulsating pain. They often strike one side of the head when nerve fibers that reside within the wall of brain blood vessels traveling within the meninges(4) become activated.

Migraines are often accompanied by light, noise, and odor sensitivity, nausea and vomiting. Ordinary physical activity, movement, or even coughing or sneezing can aggravate the pain of migraine. (Please refer to sidebar to the right for a list of factors which may increase your risk of migraine.)

Migraine headaches occur most often in the morning, especially when waking. They may also occur at predictable times such as just before menstruation or after periods of stressful work. Because they can be so debilitating, many people are often left weak and exhausted after a migraine has passed.

Migraines occur in both children and adults, however they tend to affect adult women three times more often than men. Evidence supports the fact that migraines tend to be genetic.

Migraine in women is associated with hormonal changes with migraines commencing with the first menstrual cycle or during first pregnancy and a lessening of migraine attack after menopasue. Surgical removal of the ovaries has been found to worsen migraines. Women with migraine who take oral contraceptives may experience changes in the frequency and severity of attacks, while women who rarely suffer from headache may actually develop migraines as a side effect of the drug.

How and under what circumstances a person experiences a headache can be key to diagnosing its cause and providing appropriate and effective treatment for pain relief. Because the pain of headaches and migraines can be so debilitating, sufferers actively seek cures ranging from diets to sleep routines to drugs. Other natural treatments like chiropractic care actually prove to be beneficial and extremely successful.

At Wagner Chiropractic, we may use spinal adjustments to affect the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches because adjusting the bones, joints and body tissues impact the way blood vessels function. (Remember that throbbing blood vessels are the physiological root of the migraine headache as mentioned above.)

A large number of clinical trials prove that receiving chiropractic treatment once or twice a week for eight to twelve weeks remarkably reduces (or eliminates) migraine symptoms, lessening their frequency, intensity, duration and greatly improving quality of life.

Many migraine patients respond extremely favorably to chiropractic manipulation and experience less or no migraine headache episodes over time. Chiropractic care should be considered for chronic, non-responsive migraine headache. Chiropractic, physical therapy, massage and acupuncture are other options when the migraine patient is non-responsive to the medical model when in pain.

Call us to schedule a headache and nervous system evaluation with X-ray studies or MRI. We want to help you have better days ahead.

  1. each of the fifth and largest pair of cranial nerves, supplying the front part of the head and dividing into the ophthalmic (eye), maxillary (upper jaw), and mandibular (lower jaw) nerves.

  2. particularly trigeminal(1) neuralgia(3), a chronic pain condition that typically affects a major nerve on one side of the jaw or cheek

  3. intense, typically intermittent pain along the course of a nerve, especially in the head or face

  4. the three membranes that line the skull and vertebral canal and enclose the brain and spinal cord

Factors increasing risk of migraine:

  • sudden changes in weather or environment

  • too much or not enough sleep; sleep disorders

  • bright or flashing lights

  • strong odors or fumes

  • certain foods and ingredients (wine, other types of alcohol, chocolate, aged cheeses, monosodium glutamate, some fruits and nuts, fermented or pickled goods, yeast, and cured or processed meats)

  • aspartame

  • caffeine or caffeine withdrawal

  • stress, emotional stress

  • overexertion

  • loud or sudden noises

  • motion sickness

  • low blood sugar

  • skipped meals

  • tobacco

  • depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder

  • epilepsy

  • head trauma

  • hangover

  • some medications

  • medication overuse

  • missed doses of medication

  • hormonal changes


“Headache: Hope Through Research.” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,

“A case of chronic migraine remission after chiropractic care.” Elsevier Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2008,

“Chronic migraine and chiropractic rehabilitation: A case report.” Elsevier Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Spring 2003,

“Chiropractic spinal manipulative treatment of migraine headache of 40-year duration using Gonstead method: a case study.” Elsevier Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Sept. 2011,