Was recently asked to say a few words about migraines and what to do about them. First it’s important to understand what migraines are. Migraines are severe headaches that have an unknown etiology–in other words, we are not exactly sure what causes them.
The symptoms of migraines are moderate to severe pulsating headaches, usually on one side of the head, with associated nausea, and very often with an aura–transient visual, sensory, language, or motor disturbances signaling the migraine will soon occur. Many people have a sensitivity to light, such that they have to draw the shades and spend the day (or days) in a dark room lying in bed. Women tend to be effected more than men by a 3:1 ratio.
I see plenty of migraine sufferers in my Los Angeles chiropractic clinic. However, more often people come in complaining of migraines when in fact they have tension headaches instead. Tension headaches are a little easier to treat, since they are most often due to musculoskeletal issues (subluxation, muscle tension, etc). I have to ask incoming “migraine” sufferers if they have been diagnosed by a medical doctor, and if they are on medication. If the answer is no, my experience is that many of these people are having severe tension headaches, which can certainly be bad.
Most migraine sufferers have been dealing with their severe headaches for quite some time, and they have visited other doctors. While not a hard, fast rule, it is what I most often observe. When I ask about medication, if they tell me that they’ve tried Excedrin, and that it helps, that’s a pretty good indication that we are dealing with migraines. If they say that regular pain meds, like Tylenol or Advil work, then it’s probably not a migraine. Again these are not definite rules, just observations.
For tension headache sufferers, chiropractic care is phenomenal–I would say the success rates is in the 90 percentile. If the headaches originate from TMJ syndrome, then this needs to be addressed. Either way, a chiropractor is a pretty good choice for treatment.
For true migraines, the results of chiropractic are about 50/50. That’s because sometimes migraine headaches are set off by certain foods–wines, cheeses, and other substances like MSG for example–or are vascular in nature. However, saying that, it is still a good idea to try chiropractic for migraine sufferers because it does, in fact, help some people.
I have a young man that sees me for chiropractic care who suffers from migraines a few times per year. He has auras, so he definitely knows when the migraine is coming. If he gets in early enough, the chiropractic helps cut the headaches off at the pass. If he does not, then he suffers for about three days, totally incapacitated–can’t work, can’t socialized, done.
We believe that by adjusting the spine, it allows blood vessels to open and flow freely. Further, chiropractic adjustments free the nervous system from functional interference and thus migraine sufferers get a return to normal function both vascularly and neurologically, thereby clearing up the headache.
So my advice to people suffering from migraines is to get into a chiropractor right away when symptoms first arise. If it turns out chiropractic alone doesn’t do it, you might want to get checked by a medical doctor and get some migraine medication, which I understand from some of my clients that take them, they work pretty well in conjunction with the chiropractic care.
Hope that helps, Double L. Thank you for the great question.