Headaches and Migraines: Natural Treatment
Three types of headaches: Tension, Migraine, Cervicogenic
Tension headaches are frequently associated with mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head or at the back of your head at the base of your skull. It is often described as “band-like” pain or feels like something is pressing tightly around the head.
A migraine is a periodic, severe, throbbing headache. Migraines can be associated with visual changes like auras, blurred vision, nausea, and vomiting. Women appear to suffer from them more often than men. They often occur either around ovulation, in pregnancy, premenstrually or at menopause. Migraines start with pain in, around or behind the eyes and spread to involve one or both sides of the head.
It is a headache that originates in the cervical spine but is perceived to be arising in the head. These headaches can respond extremely well to chiropractic treatment.
There are other headache types like sinus, weather-related and concussion-related. Regardless of the type, natural treatment can help.
What Causes Migraines?
There are a variety of factors that may cause or contribute to migraines:
Because migraines occur more often in women and often occur at pivotal points in the menstrual cycle, there appears to be a relationship with hormones and migraines.
There are 2 sources of histamine:
- Internally released from white blood cells known as basophils. Vitamin C and vitamin B6 help stabilize these cells. These vitamins also help with breaking down histamine released by your body.
- Introduced from externally by ingesting foods that contain histamine. This includes foods that are pickled, preserved or prepared and stored. In your gut, you have an enzyme called DAO to break down this source of histamine. Some people don’t produce enough DAO. We supplement with this enzyme to see if it helps. There is also a test that can be done to see if you don’t produce the right amount of DAO.
There is some speculation that migraines may be related to an imbalance in serotonin. Vitamin B6 and magnesium help your body to make serotonin in normal amounts. If you are deficient in these vitamins and minerals, your brain isn’t able to make the proper amounts of neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Natural Treatment for Headaches and Migraines:
Naturopathic doctors help people with migraines and headaches. We identify and help resolve triggers like:
- food allergies/sensitivities
- vitamin/mineral deficiencies like B6, C, and magnesium
- hormonal imbalances that can trigger PMS and menopause-related headaches and migraines.
We also use acupuncture to relieve headache pain and prevent future recurrences.
Registered Massage Therapists
Tension headaches can be caused by trigger points, sleep disturbances, postural imbalance, and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction. Massage for headache sufferers focuses on reducing the tone of “tight” muscles, reducing trigger points, reducing joint dysfunctions, increasing relaxation, circulation, and range of motion. All of these ultimately help to alleviate or even eradicate tension headaches.
There are many daily activities and habits that lead to headaches. Poor posture, physical injury, and stress are some of the most common causes. When these occur, they prevent normal movement of the many joints in your neck. When these joints do not move normally, they put pressure on the nerves in your neck. These then, in turn, send pain signals to the already tight muscles around your head and neck. This causes many common headaches.
Headaches are a widespread problem. 90% of the population experiences one at some point in their lifetime. About 5% of the population (9% of women) suffers from chronic daily headaches. One-third of these individuals overuse pain medications on a regular basis, often without realizing they are doing so. These medications damage the lining of your stomach and/or your liver.
Chiropractic spinal manipulations have been shown to decrease the severity and frequency of many types of headaches. This applies particularly to those caused by poor posture, injury, and stress. Spinal manipulations restore normal movement to your spine and relax the muscles in the area.
Most people experience cervicogenic or tension headaches. Cervicogenic means produced by the cervical spine. These headaches are related to the abnormal movement of the joints in your neck and the associated muscle tightness. They are usually moderately painful, with a sharp, achy or throbbing nature. And, they generally affect one side of your head. Tension headaches are often described as a moderately painful squeezing pressure around your head.
How Can a Chiropractor Treat Headaches and Migraines?
The first visit to one of our chiropractors typically includes a thorough consultation. This includes a physical, neurological, and orthopedic examination. Our chiropractors will also palpate your neck joints and muscles to assess movement irregularities and tension patterns. Sometimes x-rays are required to better understand the underlying cause. Dr. Buan-Basit or Dr. Davy will then explain the results, provide a diagnosis, and outline your specific treatment plan.
Chiropractors do not prescribe medications. But rather they use a range of manual therapies to relieve pain and reduce the frequency and intensity of your headaches. Our chiropractors use gentle spinal manipulation, mobilizations, instrument adjusting, soft tissue therapy, and exercise. Chiropractic care is extremely effective in treating cervicogenic and tension headaches as well as neck pain and stiffness.
Often, the frequency and intensity of headaches decrease rapidly. However, the body continues to heal even after the pain has gone. Continuing chiropractic care helps to retrain your body to move and function properly. Without the ongoing irritation related to joint dysfunctions, your body’s nervous system functions more efficiently and is better able to heal itself. In time, exercise, a healthy diet, and periodic visits to the chiropractor help patients stay healthy and pain-free!
Osteopathic Manual Practitioner (Osteopath)
An osteopathic manual practitioner helps headaches and migraines by gentle manipulation of the head and neck to increase mobility and release tension.
An acupuncturist relieves headaches by stimulating your body’s release of natural painkillers and feel-good neurotransmitters.
Any of the above treatments can also safely help kids with headaches.
By Dr. Pamela Frank, Naturopathic Doctor, updated Jan. 3, 2020
References for Chiropractic Treatment of Migraines
Assendelft et al (2001) Efficacy of spinal manipulation for chronic headaches: A systematic review. JMPT. 24(7): 457-466.
Castillo et al (1999) Epidemiology of Headaches in the General Population. Headache. 39(30):190-196.
Moore et al (2004) Upper Crossed Syndrome and its relationship to cervicogenic headaches. JMPT. 27(4): 414-420.
Natural Treatment for Headaches and Migraines: Research
Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Shin B, Vickers A, White A. Acupuncture for the prevention of tension-type headaches. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016; DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007587.pub2.
● A review of 12 trials with 2349 adults found that acupuncture treatment compared with sham acupuncture or the usual care was superior in reducing the frequency of tension-type headaches.
Acupuncture, Massage Therapy and Relaxation Techniques:
Nahin RL, Boineau R, Khalsa PS, Stussman BJ, Weber WJ. Evidence-based evaluation of complementary health approaches for pain management in the United States. Mayo Clin Proceedings. 2016; 91(9): 1292-1306.
● The review found the following complementary approaches had more positive results in helping patients maintain the following chronic painful conditions:
o Acupuncture and yoga are effective for back pain
o Acupuncture and tai chi are effective for osteoarthritis of the knee
o Massage therapy is effective for neck pain
o Relaxation techniques are effective for severe headaches and migraines
Zhao L, Chen J, Ying L, et al. The long-term effect of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2017; DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.9378.
● This study found that acupuncture significantly decreased the frequency of migraine attacks when compared to sham acupuncture and control groups.
Many individuals who experience migraine headaches also have low levels of magnesium; therefore magnesium supplementation may be beneficial to those with migraines. Source: J Neural Transm. 2012 May; 119(5):575-9.
Magnesium oxide supplementation was found to significantly reduce the severity and frequency of migraine headaches. Source: Complementary Prescriptions Journal, Vol.26, Issue 12, Dec. 2012
Ginger powder was found to significantly decrease migraine severity two hours after supplementation in patients with an acute migraine without aura. Source: Phytother Res. 2013 May 9
Hydroethanolic extract of Lippia alba leaves was found to reduce pain by 50% in 70% of patients and decrease the number of headache days. Source: Phytomedicine. 2013 Jul 15;20(10):947-50.
Inhalation of lavender essential oil for 15 minutes was found to partially or entirely help migraine headache patients. Source: Eur Neurol. 2012; 67(5):288-91.
Daily L-carnitine supplementation reduces the severity and frequency of migraine headaches. Source: Complementary Prescriptions Journal, Vol.26, Issue 12, Dec. 2012
Pinus radiata bark extract:
Treatment with Pinus radiata bark extract and vitamin C reduced the number of headache days and headache severity by more than 50% after 12 months. Source: Acta Neurol Taiwan. 2013 Mar;22(1):13-21.