How Does Chiropractic Work For Headaches?

Chiropractor gently adjusting a patient's neck in his office.

Headaches are much more prevalent health complaints than most health conditions. In chiropractic, headache is the third most common condition being treated, next to back pain and neck pain. Relative to the two leading cases chiropractic care deal with, many headache conditions are mild to moderate in severity and less disruptive. They require health care nonetheless, as they are bound to recur and affect a person’s productivity and quality of life, when their underlying causes are not addressed.


The number of documented types of headaches is more than 120. The vast majority of them are of the following most common types:


  • Tension headache – It is a generalized headache that can be described as a mild tightness around your head. It can cause irritability and affect your mood and concentration though it does not totally disrupt your daily activities.


  • Cervicogenic headache – It is an intense headache around the upper neck. It originates in the spine, in the neck and shoulder areas.


  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) headache – It is a headache associated with the jaw pain condition called temporomandibular joint dysfunction and often goes with other symptoms such as pain from jaw movements – yawning, chewing, talking, etc.


  • Migraine – It is an intense throbbing, pulsating pain usually on one side of your head. It can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and nervous disturbances in the visual, sensory, motor and verbal functions. Its severity effectively renders the patient unproductive, sometimes bedridden.


  • Cluster headache – As its description suggests, cluster headaches occur in clusters at a time, over a period of a month or two. Commonly confused with migraine, cluster headache occurs together with symptoms of sinus infection like stuffy nose, fever, cough and congestion. This headache is less severe than migraine.


  • Hormone headache – It a type of headache often caused by hormonal development in women that is often associated with their periods. Contraceptive pills, pregnancy and menopause also trigger hormone headaches.

Read more on types of headaches which chiropractor can treat here in this special article.

Chiropractic Care for Headaches


The only exception to the type of headaches that chiropractic care can deal with are those where the causes are serious and can be life threatening. These causes include aneurism, head injuries, brain tumors and vertebral or carotid artery dissection. It is the chiropractor’s role to refer these cases to other healthcare professionals for more appropriate medical attention. Chiropractic care works well with all other headaches.


How does chiropractic care work for headaches? What are the necessary steps that chiropractors follow in the treatment of headache?


Apart from the personal information that the chiropractic staff will ask of you, information on the history and details on the headache condition will be determined through an interview. These data may ascertain the most probable cause of headaches as well as give an idea on how to best manage the condition and you, the patient. In cases where certain habits or activities lead to the onset of the headaches, for example, the chiropractor may give guidance on ergonomics or prescribe specific exercise program to keep the tension on the part of the body under control. The information gathered on what help ease or aggravate the headaches will assist the chiropractor to recommend home treatment options, if possible.


Mechanical dysfunctions or abnormalities in your neck vertebrae will then be examined to check for increased muscle tension or nerve irritation that can affect blood flow control into your head. Chiropractic adjustments are done to align the neck bones and  improve movements and with it, relieve the irritation and pressure that result in headaches. Misalignments or abnormalities in the neck joints can come from trauma such as accidents or falls, repetitive stress from long hours of work involving routine movements, stress or poor posture. Many chronic and recurring headaches are results of years of bad health habits and activities. The examination will evaluate these issues and isolate other possible more serious causes, if any. Nerve reflexes and sensation as well as muscle strength check will be carried out to assess nerve functions. X-ray examinations of the neck and jaw will likewise be evaluated. After this series of exams, the appropriate treatment approaches which include adjustments, soft tissue therapy, posture correction or other exercises and guidance on job modifications will be implemented.


Chiropractic has very high success rates in the treatment of headaches – about 90 percent with tension and cervicogenic headaches and 70 percent with migraines. The lower success rate with migraines is due  due to other non-spinal, less- controllable factors, i.e., migraine triggers.