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Headaches Part 3 – Chiropractic Treatment

January 24, 2011

Sometimes we all need a helping hand

Last, but not least, in this three part series on headaches is chiropractic treatment.  The reason that I’ve put it third is that most headaches of musculoskeletal origin can often be prevented or managed effectively on their own.  In part two of this series we saw that there are many factors which we have control over to help with headaches.  Sometimes, however, we need a helping hand, and that’s when going to see your chiropractor is a good idea…

Passive Stretching
Last week I had spoken about self stretching of tight muscles.  While that can be beneficial, a passive approach to stretching, where someone else does it for you, can also help muscles to relax, especially during those times when it can be too painful to move on your own.  The big difference between stretching on your own and having someone else facilitate the stretch is that passive stretching enables you to let all of the muscles in a particular region relax.  As with self stretching, however, the environment should be calming and void of unnecessary distractions so as to allow proper focus and cooperation between patient and practitioner.

Myofascial Release
When muscles have been tight and tense for a prolonged period of time (as is often the case with chronic headaches) they can start to develop adhesions between the muscle fibres. These adhesion inhibit and distort the normally smooth and relaxed motion of the muscles leading to further dysfunction and often resulting in pain.  Myofascial release therapy is a technique aimed at reducing the muscles’ adhesions and restoring proper function.  The technique involves first identifying the tight and tender areas within specific muscles. Next, manual tension is applied over that tight/tender area while that muscle is stretched out through its’ range of motion.  A good analogy is to think of the process of an iron moving over fabric and taking out the wrinkles – in a similar manner, the muscle is “smoothed out” and can better relax allowing it to move more freely again.  Again, better motion helps to reduce the physical stresses contributing to a headache.

Adjustment & Mobilization
In response to prolonged tension, one of the ways your body can react is by stiffening up. I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the sensation of tightness in the upper back, neck and shoulders after a stressful day.  Just as muscles become tight, so too can joints become restricted and lose their normal range of motion (for a little more background on the mechanics of how and why joints become restricted see this post.  The same principles that apply in the low back apply here as well).  Stiff joints can become painful joints as inflammation builds up.  And painful joints can contribute to headaches.  Here is where we get into what chiropractors are often known best for – adjustment.  An adjustment is a procedure wherein a quick impulse is applied to a restricted joint to help free up the joint’s range of motion.  Two really neat things happen because of this.  First, the joint can start to move more easily again.  This means that good, healthy motion within the joint can help to reduce the build up of inflammation and pain.  Second, there is a release of endorphins (your body’s natural pain killers) locally around the joint.  Endorphins are chemicals – your body’s natural pain killers.  These two effects of the adjustment build on one another: better motion leads to less pain and less pain leads to better motion.  A powerful combination to reduce the build up of factors causing the headache.

Now adjustments aren’t for everyone all the time.  There are instances with certain health conditions, timing, and patient preference when another therapy technique called joint mobilization may be more appropriate.  Mobilization is similar to adjustment in that manual motion is applied to specific joints in order to restore normal function.  Instead of one quick impulse, however, a slow and repetitive motion is applied to the various joints as needed.

Stretching, myofascial release, and adjustment/mobilization are but three approaches in an almost endless variety of techniques and therapies to be applied in the management of headaches.  These three techniques are also among the safest and most effective in managing headaches with a musculoskeletal component.  As we have seen in the previous posts on headaches there are many other factors that come into play as well.    Finding the right approach and combination for you comes from your specific needs, abilities, and relationship with your chiropractor or other health care provider.

If you’d like more information on treatment for migraines and tension headaches or finding a Guelph chiropractor, you can contact Guelph Chiropractors at Clear Path Chiropractic.

Photo credit:  flyingg

From → Headaches

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