Headaches and Migraines: Natural Treatment
There are 3 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 and 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 and they can often occur either around ovulation or premenstrually. Migraines often start with pain in and around the eye 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.
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 and externally from ingesting foods that are pickled, preserved or prepared and stored. In your gut, you have an enzyme called DAO to break down the latter source. Vitamin C and vitamin B6 help stabilize the mast cells that release histamine and help with breaking down histamine released by your body.
There is some speculation that migraines may be related to an imbalance in serotonin. Vitamin B6 and magnesium can help your body to make serotonin in normal amounts.
Natural Treatment for Headaches and Migraines:
Naturopathic doctors can help with migraines and headaches by identifying triggers like food allergies/sensitivities and caffeine, determining vitamin/mineral deficiencies like B6, C and magnesium and help balance hormones that can trigger PMS and menopause related headaches and migraines. We can 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 temperomandibular joint dysfunction. Massage treatments for headaches sufferers focus on reducing the tone of “tight” muscles, reducing trigger points, reducing joint dysfunctions and increasing circulation and range of movement, all of which ultimately can help to alleviate or even eradicate tension headaches.
There are many daily activities and habits that can lead to headaches. Poor posture, physical injury, and stress are some of the most common causes. When these occur, they can prevent normal movement of the many joints in your neck. When these joints do not move normally, they put pressure on the nerves in the area of reduced movement, which then, in turn, send pain signals to the already tight muscles and tissues around the neck and head. 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.
Chiropractic spinal manipulations have been shown to decrease the severity and frequency of many types of headaches, particularly those caused by poor posture, injury, and stress. The 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, and these headaches are related to abnormal movement of the joints in the neck, and the associated tightness of the muscles surrounding them. They are usually moderately painful, with a sharp, achy or throbbing nature, and generally affect one side of the head. Tension headaches are often related, and are described as a moderately painful squeezing pressure around your head.
Not all headaches are cause by spinal misalignments. Sometimes caffeine, lack of nutrients, stress, allergies, menstruation, or poor sleep habits can cause them.
How Can a Chiropractor Treat Headaches and Migraines?
The first visit to a chiropractor typically includes a consultation, a physical, neurological, and orthopedic examination, and palpation of the neck joints and muscles to assess movement irregularities and tension patterns. Sometimes x-rays are required to better understand the underlying cause. The chiropractor will then explain the results, provide a diagnosis, and outline the specific treatment plan.
Chiropractors do not prescribe medications, but use a range of manual techniques to relieve pain and reduce frequency and intensity of headaches. Gentle spinal manipulation, mobilizations, instrument adjusting, soft tissue therapy, and exercise are typically used. Chiropractic care has been proven to be extremely effective in treating cervicogenic and tension headaches as well as neck pain and stiffness.
Often, the frequency and intensity of headaches decreases rapidly. However, the body continues to heal even after the pain has gone. Continuing to have chiropractic care helps to retrain the body to move and function properly. Without the ongoing irritation related to joint dysfunctions, the 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 helps patients stay healthy and pain-free!
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 headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016; DOI:
● A review of 12 trials with 2349 adults found that acupuncture treatment compared with sham
acupuncture or usual care was superior in reducing 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;
● Review found the following complementary approaches had more positive results in helping
patients maintain the following chronic painful conditions:
o Acupuncture and yoga for back pain
o Acupuncture and tai chi for osteoarthritis of the knee
o Massage therapy for neck pain
o Relaxation techniques for severe headaches and migraines
o Weaker evidence for relaxation and tai chi for fibromyalgia
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 (waiting list) 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 acute migraine without aura. Source: Phytother Res. 2013 May 9
Sumatriptan was found to significantly decrease migraine severity two hours after supplementation in patients with 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 was found to reduce 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 was found to reduce number of headache days and headache severity by more than 50% after 12 months. Source: Acta Neurol Taiwan. 2013 Mar;22(1):13-21.