Research is showing that chiropractic appears to offer many patients relief from chronic headache while also reducing their headache intensity, duration, and frequency
Only 4% of the population has no idea what it feels like to have a headache according to research published in The American Journal of Medicine. For the other 96%, 40% of these head pains are categorized as tension headaches and 10% fall into the category of migraines or chronic headache.
Some of the most common headache treatments include medication (both over-the-counter and prescription), rest, hot or cold compresses, and consuming a bit of caffeine. Several studies further suggest that chiropractic can also potentially offer relief, and on a variety of levels.
A 2012 study on migraines
In 2012, the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork published a study involving 10 male patients diagnosed with migraines. One half had unilateral headaches, and the other half reported experiencing a bilateral headache. Each patient received a short massage of the neck area followed by manipulation of the cervical and upper thoracic spine that was “similar to chiropractic.”
After one massage-manipulation treatment that was less than five minutes in length, patients reported an immediate reduction in their level of pain, with eight of the 10 patients indicating that their pain had reduced by at least half. All of the subjects labeled this dual intervention as “good,” “very good,” or “excellent” and no side effects were reported.
A 2016 clinical trial on cervicogenic headaches
Four years later, BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders published the results of a randomized clinical trial involving 110 subjects with cervicogenic headaches. Participants were placed into one of two groups. The first group received up to eight sessions of manipulation to the cervical and thoracic spine and the second engaged in mobilization and exercise.
When compared to the mobilization and exercise group, those who received the manipulation intervention had a greater reduction in both headache intensity and disability at three months post-study. They also reported having headaches less frequently and, if they did occur, they were shorter in duration.
A 2018 controlled trial on cervicogenic headaches
Another trial found similar, positive results. This one involved 256 adults with cervicogenic headaches and, in addition to studying the impact of chiropractic in general, it also set out to determine the impact of this modality based on the number of treatment sessions provided.
Participants were separated into four different treatment groups, with one group receiving no chiropractic at all and the remaining three groups receiving either six, 12, or 18 chiropractic sessions. Each subject was evaluated regularly starting at six weeks and up to 52 weeks in total.
Researchers noted a linear dose-response. The more sessions the subjects had, the more their number of headaches reduced. Specifically, the number of headaches experienced reduced by one every four weeks for every six chiropractic treatment sessions.
The group receiving the most chiropractic care (18 sessions) had the greatest relief, dropping their average number of headaches from 16 during each four-week period to around eight. These results were published in The Spine Journal.
A 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis
One of the newest pieces of research on chiropractic’s impact on chronic headache pain can be found in the European Journal of Pain. This review and meta-analysis was published in July 2020 and looked at seven randomized controlled trials, each of which compared spinal manipulation therapy with other manual treatments.
Based on their findings, researchers concluded that manipulation was “superior” for reducing cervicogenic headache pain intensity and frequency in the short-term, with reduced headache frequency continuing at intermediate follow-up. This review also noted that manipulation positively impacted disability scores associated with headache pain.
Chronic headache pain: putting it all together
While many of these studies suggest that further research needs to be conducted in this area to verify their findings, these are promising results for those who regularly struggle with chronic headache pain.
Whether used on its own or in conjunction with other treatment modalities, chiropractic appears to offer many patients relief from head pain while also reducing their headache intensity, duration, and frequency.
Since 96% of the population experiences head pain at some point in their lives, that makes this intervention one that is worth exploring. Doing a deeper dive can help us better understand the best techniques, as well as the number of sessions needed to provide patients the most superior results.