In our office, pretty much on a daily basis, multiple patients will come in complaining of a headache.  It may be a fairly acute type thing or they may be a long time sufferer. 

There are three type of headaches that make up the lion’s share of the category.  These are:  migraine, tension-type headaches and cervicogenic headaches.    It is estimated that 16% of the general population suffers from headaches of these types (Haas et al. The Spine Journal 2010; 10:117-128). 

I recently read a review of the above article for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I like keeping up on new research and secondly, Dr. Mitch Haas is a respected researcher from Western States University where Igraduated from. 

So let me just do a quick summary of their findings on one of these types of headaches.  Cervicogenic headaches (CGH) are generally associated with neck pain and mechanical dysfunction of the related tissues.  The purpose of Dr. Haas’s study was to determine how effective spinal manipulation was in treating headaches of this type.  They ended up with 80 participants who met the inclusion/exclusion criteria of the study and broke them up into four groups.  Two of the groups received spinal manipulation therapy (SMT) in either high or low doses and two of the groups received light massage in either high or low doses for 8 weeks. 

I won’t bore you with all the details, but the nuts and bolts of it boils down to this: the spinal manipulation group experienced 2.6 fewer headaches per week (at 24 week followup) compared to those receiving light massage.  This was irregardless of being part of the high or low dose group, though the high-dose group did have improvement in neck pain more-so than the low dose group.  Of note:  at the beginning of the study, the average number of headaches per week was four. 

So what does this mean to me as a chiropractor.  Well, first of all, we know that SMT is effective in decreasing the symptomsof cervicogenic headaches by about 50% in 80% of people.  We also know that patients don’t tend to be “cured” by this intervention alone.  This indicates that cervicogenic headaches may require a combined intervention which includes exercise, soft-tissue therapy, spinal manipulation and education. 

Which is why at my clinic, we employ all the above methods to deal with cervicogenic headaches.  Patients routinely have heat therapy, graston theapy or trigger point therapy for their soft tissues (and sometimes laser or shockwave therapy).  They have spinal manipulative therapy either manually, with an activator or utilizing the drop table and they are given exercises and stretches to do at homebetween treatments.  Modifications to work stations and activities of daily living are discussed, so as to give the patient every possible chance to have a favourable outcome. 

Thanks to Dr. Haas’s et al for their continued outstanding research and to Dr. Rodine for the review via Research Review Services.  This service gives me access to the latest research coming from great peer-reviewed journals from a number of different health care perspectives including fitness and exercise, massage, naturopathic and nutrition, sport, spine and rehabilitation.  For any practitioners that read this blog, I highly recommend it. 

Yours in Health,

Dr. Jen

© Jennifer Forbes 2015