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


This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Melissa

    What an amazing video with lots of information. Enjoyed this post!

  2. Paul

    Great video Jason, very informational and not too ‘nerdy’. Another interesting tip for people that is simple and easy to do is to place an ice pack on the back of their neck and a hot pack on their hands (or hands on stomach) to help relieve symtoms.

  3. Melissa

    Tonight I was looking at some things about having headaches after an adjustment and if it was normal when I came across this. I’m guessing it’s normal to have somewhat of an headache after an adjustment (which wasn’t manual, done with a clicker since I was so tight). Is that correct that it’s normal to have somewhat of a headache after an adjustment? Thanks for the post.

  4. Jason Young, DC


    Thanks for your comment.  A headache after a treatment is not “normal” however as side effects from spinal manipulations go it is one of the more common side effects.  According to a 1996 study it occurs about 10% of the time that people receive neck manipulation for neck pain.  One thing that is particularly uncommon about what you are describing is that you are receiving a non-manual treatment which typically doesn’t involve rotation of the neck which has been associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing a headache after a treatment.  If you are experiencing headaches frequently after treatments you and your chiropractor need to work together on finding a technique which will work better for you.  Or you need to find a chiropractor who’s technique works better for you if you choose to have manipulation. 

    I’m curious as to why you are having your neck adjusted.  Is it for neck pain, headache, trauma or as part of a wellness treatment?  I know that patients I have who experience an adverse side effect as a result of manipulation we will sometimes just avoid adjusting that region unless we feel like it is absolutely necessary. 

    I hope this has been helpful!  I appreciate the opportunity to be of service to you.  Good luck!

  5. Melissa

    Thank you for the comment. It was helpful! I haven’t experienced a headache after a treatment/adjustment for a long time, so that’s why I was guessing it was normal. As I read your comment this morning and a little last night I was thinking to myself that I usually do better with a manual adjustment, so next time I go in for a maintaince adjustment I’ll talk with the chiropractor and ask them if we could do the adjustment manually. I am guessing the neck was just for stretching purposes and wellness treatment since the chiropractor gave it a good stretch and then rotated it on both sides. I don’t relax the best and tighten up some so my chiropractor knows they have to catch me off guard, so we are usually talking about something when they move my neck. Thanks again for your suggestions and comment.

  6. Roger Middleton

    I found it interesting that you had said that getting a chiropractor can actually help manage migraines and is very effective. My wife has been dealing with migraines almost her whole life and we’ve never known how to get it under control. We’ll have to start looking around for a chiropractor so we can get her migraine under control.

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