Chiropractic care can offer a long-term, holistic treatment of migraines. Traditional medical treatments have offered medications to manage pain symptoms. Chiropractors focus on the overall health of the patient, including nutrition and exercise, as well as manipulation and adjustments, in order to manage migraines. A migraine is more than a regular headache. It is an intense throbbing, accompanied by nausea or vomiting, and sensitivity to sound and light. These attacks can last hours or days, and they are often preceded by an “aura”, or “sensory warning symptoms”. These can include blind spots, tingling, or flashes of light.1 Researchers disagree on the causes of migraines, but many feel it has to do with blood flow in the brain, genetics, and certain food triggers (such as alcohol, caffeine, dairy, chocolate, nuts, nitrates, and MSG) and stressors (such as bright lights, noises, crying, hormones, sleep disturbances, and smoking).2
Traditional Medicine for Migraines
Medical doctors utilize various medications to manage pain symptoms, or to attempt to prevent migraine attacks. These can include pain-relieving medications, or preventive medications taken on a daily basis, to manage the severity of the symptoms. The problems associated with medications are side effects and long-term concerns such as “ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, and rebound headaches”. Some of the prescription triptans can lead to “nausea, dizziness, and muscle weakness”. Because of this, anti-nausea medications are and steroids are often prescribed at the same time. Serious migraine cases may lead to the prescription of narcotics and opiates. These have side-effects, and they can lead to addiction issues. As for prevention, doctors may prescribe cardiovascular drugs, ergots, antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, and even Botox. All of these also carry their own risks and side-effects.3
The Role of Massage in Relieving Migraines
Massage therapy is one option that can be sought to relieve the effects of migraines. Head massages lessen the effects of the extreme head pain by releasing the mood-lifting chemical serotonin to combat the pain. Additionally, massage relieves muscle tension, reduces stress, eases pain from other sources, and can help alleviate sleep disorders. One study has shown that migraine sufferers who receive massages experience fewer migraines and sleep “better during the weeks they had massages”. Those with certain injuries and medical conditions, such as osteoporosis, recent surgery, and fractures, should not receive massage or should discuss the options with their doctor prior to going in for treatment.4 Self-massage can be performed at home to reduce the pain of a migraine for a while. If the pain is located between the eyebrows or around the general eye area, rubbing the eyebrows from the glabella to the temporalis muscle is the solution. If the pain is located in the center of the face, the index and middle fingers of both hands should be placed on either side of the face on the cheekbone. Then, the fingers should massage the face with short, upward motions, working along the cheekbones towards the center of the nose. If the sides of the head house the pain, simply rubbing the temporalis muscles on either side of the head in circular motions should reduce the pain. Pain located in the back or top of the head is treated with massage performed on the base and back of the head. The rubbing should start where the head and neck meet and move upward into more of a motion similar to that of shampooing the head while showering. Self-massage is a good, quick-fix solution if the migraine is unexpected and a massage therapist or other form of natural treatment is unavailable.5
Chiropractic for Migraines
Chiropractors may suggest lifestyle changes in their patients, such as skipping problematic foods, avoiding cigarettes/caffeine/alcohol, getting enough sleep and exercise, and staying well-hydrated. They may even suggest supplements, such as 5-HTP, magnesium, B2, CoQ10, and melatonin. Several studies have demonstrated that chiropractic therapy may help treat migraine and tension headaches as well as certain prescriptions.6 Psychology Today (2006) noted that “chiropractic healing is about as successful as drugs.” One medical theory behind migraines is that they are from a chemical imbalance, triggered by certain foods or hormones, leading “blood vessels to dilate in the brain… vessels become inflamed, thus irritating surrounding nerve fibers.” Chiropractors believe that a subluxation or misalignment of the spine is the culprit. This causes nerve irritation and leads a patient to have the chemical imbalances in the brain. Chiropractors recommend “stretching the neck”, while avoiding “rolling and sudden movements”. Of course, prevention is also necessary, so sitting with proper posture and ergonomics is critical. It is also important to sleep on one’s side or back, with adequate neck support from a firm pillow.7 The bottom line is that chiropractic aims to resolve the root causes of migraines, instead of masking symptoms and producing medication side-effects.