Can a Chiropractor Help a Migraine?
I recently did a webinar about migraine headaches. As part of my preparation I wanted to see what kinds of information the average person might encounter if they searched Google or Yahoo! or some other sites for information about headaches. I found numerous articles and slide shows on sites like WebMD, Mayo Clinic, etc. There was some great information on migraines and headaches in general as far as what they are, how they are caused and ways to treat them. I was shocked that there was one repeated and obvious omission in every one of these sources and that is this: Chiropractic is effective for treating migraine headaches in their various stages! First, I’ll share with you what the research says and then I’ll tell you why I think we are not mentioned as a good option.
There are basically two strategies for treating migraines: 1) Prevention and 2) Relief when one strikes. When it comes to prevention the most common strategies are identifying and avoiding triggers such as foods, stress or a lack of sleep. Medical doctors also use medications to accomplish this task. These include Ergotamines, Triptans, NSAIDs, Anti-Depressants or even sometimes Antihistamines. In a culture where we are raised to believe that medicine holds all the answers we are often tempted to believe that these drugs can help everyone avoid headaches. Published research (1, 2) tends to rate the effectiveness of these medications between 53-55% when used early or 18-27% after a migraine is moderate to severe.
So what about chiropractic then? You’d think that because it isn’t typically mentioned on these popular sites that it couldn’t be anywhere near as effective right? Well if we go back to the research again we find statements such as, “Thus, the therapeutic gain [of chiropractic manipulatoin] is equivalent to that of topiramate 100 mg/day and the efficacy is equivalent to that of propranolol.” (3). Another study reports, “Clinically important improvement was observed in patients receiving spinal manipulation alone (40%), amitriptyline alone (49%) and combined therapy (41%). But in the posttreatment follow-up period, a far higher percentage of patients who received only spinal manipulation experienced reduction of their headache index scores compared with those taking amitriptyline or who underwent the combined-therapy.” (4).
In light of this it may be confusing why Chiropractic might excluded as a potential treatment option. Like many things in life, if you are looking for reasons all you have to do is follow the money. These popular websites, while free to the public, are not non-profits. They receive their profits by advertising from large pharmaceutical corporations such as Ely Lilly or Abbott. These corporations make nothing off of a treatment like Chiropractic while migraine medications generate an estimated $2.8 billion in revenues. See what I’m getting here? These sites have an interest in making drugs look good and actually even better than they often are. What about the fact that there are many more studies about the efficacy of drugs than well… any other treatment for just about any other condition out there? Again you have to look at who is writing the checks. Drug companies pay for most of the health research which often comes out making drugs look like the answer in just about every case. Imagine that! To top it all off Pharmaceutical companies then buy reprints of these studies from the scientific journals they publish in, giving these journals an incentive for publishing mostly articles that make drugs look good.
The truth is that chiropractic doesn’t cure every migraine but it is as effective as most drugs, without the same degree of risk and side effects. I have many patients that rely on chiropractic care to help them avoid migraines or help resolve them when they start. Adjusting isn’t the only trick I have up my sleeve either. I analyze the diet and lifestyle of anybody who comes to me with migraines so that we can correct nutritional imbalance or deficiency and identify the cause of these problems.
If you would like to see the webinar I presented it is right here:
1. “Early dosing and efficacy of triptans in acute migraine treatment: the TEMPO study”, Lantéri-Minet M, Mick G, Allaf B. Cephalalgia. 2012 Feb;32(3):226-35. doi: 10.1177/0333102411433042. Epub 2012 Jan 10.
2. “Clinical benefits of early triptan therapy for migraine” Láinez M. Cephalalgia: An International Journal Of Headache Cephalalgia 2004; Vol. 24 Suppl 2, pp. 24-30.
3. “Manual therapies for migraine: a systematic review” Aleksander Chaibi, Peter J. Tuchin, and Michael Bjørn Russell J Headache Pain. 2011 April; 12(2): 127–133.
4. “The efficacy of spinal manipulation, amitriptyline and the combination of both therapies for prophylaxis of migraine headache.” Nelson CF, Bronfort G, Evans R, et al. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, Oct. 1998;21