Research shows that chiropractic care provides relief from chronic headaches to many patients while reducing the intensity, duration, and frequency of headaches
According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, only 4% of the population have no idea what it feels like to have a headache. Of the other 96%, 40% of these headaches are categorized as a tension headache and 10% fall into the migraine or chronic headache category.
Some of the most common headache treatments are medication (both over-the-counter and prescription), rest, hot or cold compresses, and consuming some caffeine. Several studies also suggest that chiropractic care may also provide relief, on several levels.
A 2012 study of migraines
In 2012, the International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork published a study of 10 male patients diagnosed with migraines. Half had unilateral headaches, the other half reported bilateral headaches. Each patient received a brief massage of the neck area, followed by manipulation of the cervical and upper thoracic spine “similar to chiropractic”.
After massage manipulation treatment that lasted less than five minutes, patients reported immediate relief in their pain levels, with eight of the 10 patients reporting their pain reduced by at least half. All test persons described this dual intervention as “good”, “very good” or “excellent” and no side effects were reported.
A 2016 clinical study of cervicogenic headache
Four years later, BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders published the results of a randomized clinical trial involving 110 subjects with cervicogenic headaches. The participants were divided into one of two groups. The first group received up to eight treatments of the cervical and thoracic spine and the second group mobilized and exercised.
Compared to the mobilization and exercise group, those who received the manipulation intervention had greater reductions in both headache intensity and disability three months after the study. They also reported having headaches less often and, when they did, were of shorter duration.
A 2018 controlled study of cervicogenic headache
Another study found similar, positive results. This study enrolled 256 adults with cervicogenic headache, and in addition to examining the effects of chiropractic in general, the effect of this modality was also determined based on the number of treatment sessions offered.
Participants were divided into four different treatment groups, with one group receiving no chiropractic care at all and the remaining three groups receiving either six, 12, or 18 chiropractic sessions. Each subject was evaluated regularly from six weeks up to a total of 52 weeks.
The researchers found a linear dose-response. The more sessions the subjects had, the more the number of headaches decreased. In particular, the number of headaches experienced decreased by one every four weeks for every six chiropractic treatment sessions.
The group that received the most chiropractic treatment (18 sessions) had the greatest relief, reducing their average number of headaches from 16 during each four-week period to about eight. These results were published in The Spine Journal.
A systematic review and a meta-analysis for 2020
One of the latest research on the impact of chiropractic 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 results, the researchers concluded that manipulations were “superior” in reducing the intensity and frequency of cervicogenic headaches in the short term, with the reduced frequency of headaches persisting at the interim follow-up. This review also found that manipulations positively affected disability ratings associated with headache.
Chronic headache pain: all together
While many of these studies suggest that more research needs to be done in this area to verify their results, these are promising results for those who regularly struggle with chronic headaches.
Chiropractic care, whether used alone or in conjunction with other treatment modalities, appears to provide headache relief for many patients while reducing the intensity, duration, and frequency of headaches.
Since 96% of the population will have a headache at some point in their life, this intervention is worth researching. A deeper dive can help us better understand the best techniques as well as the number of sessions required to get the best results for the patient.