We’ve all seen those commercials for certain over-the-counter medications that help eliminate headaches. While they can offer relief, they do not address the root cause of many headaches, and that’s where chiropractic care enters the picture.
Sam Staula, D.C. with St. Luke’s Chiropractic Care, has been treating patients with a variety of headaches for his entire career.
“Chiropractic care envelops many different techniques for the management of headaches,” Staula said. “It depends on what type of headache it is because there are varying types. For instance, with migraines and cluster headaches, chiropractic care won’t really help as much.”
Chiropractic Care for tension headaches
Chiropractic care is remarkably effective at treating tension headaches for a variety of reasons. Many people consider “stress” as the cause of tension headaches; Staula explains why stress can cause them.
“Most tension headaches are cervicogenic – emanating from the neck region – in nature,” he said. “A patient’s posture through the shoulders, neck, head and jaw can have a profound effect on producing a headache.
“The repetitive stresses from posture and ergonomic stressors are going to slowly increase the tension on that neck/upper back [cerviothoracic] area,” Staula continued. “Then you have emotional stress, where we assume stressful postures such as the clenching of the jaw or the shrugging of the shoulders, which prolongs the contracture. Pain is processed in the same part of the brain as stress and anxiety, so if someone is stressing out, it will ramp up the pain and spasm directly because of a patient's posture and clenching. Stress does not magically manifest into spasms; it occurs because we assume stressful postures. Posture and the prolonged contracture are the key contributor.”
Treatments and techniques
“In terms of direct treatment, you look at the pattern of the headaches, and then with the physical, you can see a certain pattern, whether it is related to the trapezius muscles in the shoulder, the neck, even the jaw like with TMJ symptoms,”Staula said.
“A big part of treatment is educating the patient on what is producing the headaches in the first place, particularly if it is their posture, their ergonomics, their instinctive clenching and tightening of muscles, and reducing those stressors and targeting those muscles with stretching,” he said.
Staula will also utilize the Graston or FAKTR technique, with specific metal tools, or use hand manipulation/mobilization to loosen and mobilize those areas of muscle tension.
Utilizing those postural/ergonomic corrections, the passive and active stretching and exercises, spinal manipulation, and treating myofascial trigger points with instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization tools provides consistent, drug-free relief.
If these conservative therapies do not work, trigger point injections into the affected muscles that are causing the headache, or nerve blocks, can reduce the pain.
Types of Headaches
Headaches are among the most common medical complaints. They include migraine, cluster, and tension-type, which has a number of sub-categories. Diagnosing which type of headache a patient is suffering is critical to proper treatment.
It is important to know the difference between the headaches in order to explain the symptoms to the medical professionals treating them.
Typically, unilateral (on one side of the head), but may be bilateral (both sides) and start gradually but advance to moderate or severe pain. They last anywhere from four hours to three days, are aggravated by physical activity, and can induce vomiting, light sensitivity and visual auras or patterns.
Very severe and most patients end up seeking emergency care. These are less common than other headaches.
These tension-type headaches are typically bilateral but can be unilateral and are of light to moderate intensity. Tension headaches can last from 30 minutes to seven days. Patients often report dull pressure and that their head feels large, heavy and with band-like pain. Unlike migraine headaches, physical activity can be helpful.
Rebound headaches are a secondary type of headache where tension headaches keep returning because of taking over-the-counter treatments for too long, like a caffeine withdrawal.
A combination of migraine and tension-type headaches.
Red Flags on Headaches
Before treatment, every headache should be diagnosed to make sure the headache is not part of a larger, potentially more serious medical issue.
“You may think the cause is coming from the neck,” Dr. Staula said, “but other things have to be ruled out at the same time. That is what makes St. Luke’s Chiropractic Care being part of a larger medical system like St. Luke’s University Health Network so critical. Patients can get the specialty care that they need.”
Samuel Staula, D.C., graduated summa cum laude from the University of Bridgeport School of Chiropractic. He is a national board-certified chiropractic physician and certified primary spine practitioner (PSP). He helped facilitate the development of an integrated spine care program at Beth Israel Deaconess - Plymouth Hospital in Massachusetts. He is married with two children. His wife, Kristen Hanlon-Staula, is also a chiropractor with St. Luke’s Chiropractic Care.
St. Luke’s Chiropractic Care provides safe, conservative, evidence-based solutions to many musculoskeletal complaints while enhancing the already stellar lines of physical therapy and rehab, pain management and orthopedics. Chiropractic provides safe, effective care that has been shown to reduce chronic symptoms, dependency on opioid medications, as well as overall healthcare expenditures.