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Headaches are a result of decreased neural firing and/or blood flow to the brain. These two things can be a direct correlation to hypertonic muscles and hypomobile joint articulations restricting adequate cervical spine movement. Headaches have an increased prevalence after a whiplash injury. The trauma and inflammation to the neck add to increased pressure on arteries and nerves and disrupts proper joint positioning.

Physical therapists will address what the source tissue is that is leading to the individual’s headaches and will address impairments through manual therapy and education on therapeutic exercises. These therapies may involve soft tissue massage, joint mobilization, passive range of motion, and muscle strengthening for proper posture.

How Chiropractic Works To Eliminate Headaches

  • Nervous system
  • Vasoconstriction
  • Neck stiffness
  • Bad posture

A lot of times headaches stem from what we do over days, weeks, months, and years. One of the most prevalent headaches we see is called a cervicogenic headache. This usually stems from the neck and slowly works its way up to the head and can go to the temple or forehead. This happens to a lot of people who sit for work or have bad posture. With prolonged sitting, slouching, or bad posture in general the neck muscles get overworked and tired which leads to stress and inflammation in those areas. When the muscles get stressed they cause a decrease in the mobility of the bones and joints in the neck which causes more tension and stress, which slowly leads to a headache.

“Evidence suggests that chiropractic care, including spinal manipulation, improves migraine, and cervicogenic headaches” (Bryans, 2011). Chiropractic uses spinal manipulation to help get the bones and joints functioning properly to help reduce tension and stress in the neck. This occurs quite often where the pain is in the head but the problem causing the pain stems from the neck.

Chiropractors, with spinal manipulation, affect the nervous system which is the bodies communication system to and from the brain. When the nervous system is not allowed to communicate properly it can affect bloodflow, hormones, and the overall function of the cells in that area. “The low cervical spine/upper thoracic spine model proposed that dysfunction at these vertebral levels causes joint fixation and pain. This pain alters the neural messages received, and therefore sent, by the Central Nervous System” (Tuchin, 1997).

This means that when a joint is not functioning properly it can cause the nervous system to function poorly leading to stress, inflammation, and lastly pain.

Blood flow to and from the brain is extremely important and can be limited if the nervous system is not functioning properly which can lead to a migraine. “The Autonomic Nervous System which controls, amongst other functions, blood supply, is thus also affected.

It is proposed that when certain threshold levels of transient cerebral ischemia (due to vasoconstriction) are reached, a migraine cascade of symptomatology may be precipitated” (Tuchin, 1997). Therefore, the nervous system is so crucial in the overall functioning of the body.

Having joints that are fixed or non-functioning can directly cause the nervous system to be compromised in that area leading to migraines or headaches. Getting spinal manipulations helps to improve the functionality of the joints, thus improving the function of the nervous system leading to a decrease in pain and symptoms.


Roland Bryans, Martin Descarreaux, Mireille Duranleau, Henri Marcoux, Brock Potter, Rick Ruegg, Lynn Shaw, Robert Watkin, Eleanor White, Evidence-Based Guidelines for the Chiropractic Treatment of Adults With Headache, Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, Volume 34, Issue 5, 2011, Pages 274-289, ISSN 0161-4754,

Tuchin P. J. (1997). The efficacy of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) in the treatment of migraine. A pilot study. Australasian chiropractic & osteopathy : journal of the Chiropractic & Osteopathic College of Australasia, 6(2), 41-47.

One of the most important aspects of treating headaches is the initial examination. Taking a good, detailed history is where we start. This allows us to get a good picture of the original cause of the headaches. Sometimes we find that a patient’s headaches have been brewing for years because of certain events or microevents that have happened such as a significant car accident or sports injury or sitting at a desk 8 hours a day for 10 years. Our examination can include a lot of things, here are a few aspects that are common at our clinic; palpation of the spine, checking of muscle tone, range of motion, orthopedic tests, neurological tests (sensation, reflexes, muscle testing), functional movements, posture assessment, and x-rays.

Why Do I have Headaches

One of the more advanced tools that we have at our disposal is digital x-rays. Digital x-rays are a great tool that is safe and uses a very low dose of radiation. X-rays can help us evaluate the cause of one’s neck. It can show many things but here are a few: arthritis, the spacing between the vertebrae (disc degeneration), fracture, and other more rare conditions such as cancer. Taking a good history and evaluation will allow us to know if x-rays are necessary. A few reasons that x-rays are recommended are if one had recent trauma, neurological symptoms (pain or sensations going down one’s arm), intense symptoms that have been present for a longer period of time, history of spinal surgery, or suspected deformities such as scoliosis. Getting a look “under the hood” can help us recommend the best treatment plan to attack one’s headaches.

If we decide not to take x-rays, a posture screening using digital technology and functional movements will allow us to look at the biomechanical stresses off one’s posture and mobility. This can help us hone in on the root causes of a person’s headaches.

Why We Take X-Rays On Patients With Headaches

One of the most important aspects of assessing headaches is the initial history and examination. There are numerous different types of headaches with different triggers. The history can give us good insight on triggers or past traumas that could contribute to headaches. Along with the history, we need a good examination that includes x-rays of the cervical spine to assess any structural problems that could be the source of the headaches. We sometimes find that headaches can be slowly built over time and in others, we find more specific traumatic incidents that cause them.

One of the most advanced tools we have at our disposal is digital x-rays. Having x-rays is a great tool for the provider to get a better picture of what could be causing someone’s headaches. There are different types of headaches but the common ones we see in our office are: Cervicogenic, tension, migraines, and concussion. These headaches are usually due to structural changes from the vertebrae and musculature in the cervical spine. We usually see misalignment or curve changes with someone experiencing these headaches.

Using X-Rays allows us to diagnose and get very specific with treatment. X-Rays allow us to evaluate if chiropractic care is going to be safe and effective and when a referral to another provider may be necessary.