A time of joy and anticipation, pregnancy may also involve physical discomfort and, in some cases, headaches.
One study reports that more than 80 percent of women during their reproductive years’ experience headaches making headaches a common ailment during pregnancy. Oftentimes, women hesitate to take over-the-counter or prescription medication for headache relief but instrument adjusting may offer a better solution.
During pregnancy, joints in the cervical spine become “hypomobile,” meaning they don’t move as they should, according to James Ellis, DC, MSACN and owner of Evolved Health Chiropractic & Sports Medicine in Woburn, Massachusetts. “This is usually caused by poor posture over time. With poor posture comes muscle tension, which pulls and locks the joints,” he says. “Without the appropriate movement of joints, muscle imbalances develop, leading to pain and discomfort over time.”
As pregnancy advances, postural changes are common, adversely affecting the muscles and joints of the neck and back and causing increased tension and pain, Ellis saus. “Instrument adjusting helps by moving the joints of the cervical spine and neurologically resetting the muscles to relax, therefore helping to alleviate pain associated with headaches,” he says. “When an adjustment is performed, it moves the joints that are hypomobile and causes a quick stretch of the muscles. This stimulates sensory receptors called mechanorreceptors, which sense movement and inhibit pain.”
A needed adjustment
The International Headache Society (IHS) issued classification guidelines that make distinctions among several types of headaches, pointing out that tension headaches often have a high personal impact and are thought to be neurobiologically based. Ellis says, “While spinal adjustments have been shown to be effective for many types of headaches, the current research most supports the use of adjustments for tension headaches, caused by tight muscles of the neck and back.”
The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) cites a couple of studies, one out of the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in North Carolina and another published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics that supports Ellis’ claims.
For optimal results, Ellis recommends that initial treatments be administered two to three times per week. “This is because our muscles have memory and, much like learning to ride a bike, they have learned to be in this shortened abnormal position, adversely affecting your neck,” he says. “Changing this pattern will take several visits.”
Pregnant women can rest assured that instrument adjusting is “extremely safe and adverse events are rarely reported,” according to Ellis. “However, one can be over-treated, which may cause soreness or even stiffness. Once you and your doctor feel that you are improving, treatment frequency should be lowered to one to two times per week and so on.”
While instrument adjusting can provide relief from tension headaches during pregnancy, Ellis suggests that adding other alternative therapies can enhance the outcome. “Most causes of tension headaches in pregnancy are multifactorial with posture, hormones and fatigue,” he says. “This requires a customary approach to treatment and relaxation to ease built up tension, regulate hormone levels and alleviate stress.”
Although the technique is generally safe, pregnant women who have acute inflammatory joint disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, infections, uncontrolled hypertension or a history of stroke or seizure disorders should avoid instrument adjusting, cautions Ellis. He adds that the chiropractor should be aware of sensitive acupressure points in pregnant patients as well.