It is estimated that 45 million Americans suffer from severe recurring
attacks of migraine and tension headaches. Together, they spend upwards of
$400,000,000 each year on over-the-counter and prescription drugs in a
search for permanent relief. Headaches rank as the number-one health
complaint in America, surpassing in occurrence even the common cold. It is
estimated that approximately 90% of men and 95% of women suffer from
headaches at some point in any given year. A 1994 U.S. Center for Disease
Control report measuring the economic impact of headaches, states that each
year headaches generate 80 million visits to the doctor and cost employers
157 million workdays, resulting in an estimated annual cost from absenteeism
and medical bills of 50 billion dollars.
What are headaches, really? They are the perception of pain in the head,
yet the brain actually feels no pain. Many headaches are essentially a
vascular compromise triggered by a variety of factors or chemically mediated
pain fiber stimulation. Pain, any type of pain is now defined as "an
unpleasant perception of an adverse sensation."
To appreciate this statement let's look at the nervous system. If you stub
your toe it hurts, but does it? Actually, the nerve endings in your toe get
stimulated and send signals of pain or injury to your brain. Your brain
then interprets the location of the pain either correctly or incorrectly,
and informs you via nerves to a deeper brain center that also stimulates
emotional centers. This and other factors such as individual biochemical
and emotional states dictate how and where the pain is perceived. If you
could measure pain you'd see a vast differential from person to person.
Numerous attempts to classify headaches have been made as to the type,
severity, and location of pain. In allopathic medicine a headache is
diagnosed according to these classifications and then medications are
prescribed that have been found to be effective. What do these drugs do?
Generally speaking, these drugs are varieties of the "bigger aspirin"
approach to symptomatic control. This is fine for first aid measures but not
as a long-term treatment. A better way of treating headaches would be by
identifying tissue response or contributing factors that give rise to the
headache and then addressing those causes or dysfunctions.
As mentioned earlier all headaches are basically a vascular response. So,
the question is: The response to what? A multitude of factors can cause a
relative lack of nutrients to an area of the brain. In an attempt to
correct this, the vascular vessels constrict in an effort to force more
nutrients to the area via vasoconstriction. No pain yet, but maybe some
strange auras or sensations. After vasoconstriction comes vasodilation
and this is where the pain begins. Pain fibers that are wrapped around the
blood vessels now get stretched and impart a signal to the pain centers in
the brain. Now, the location and severity of the vascular compromise
determines where you feel pain as well as the intensity and characteristics
of the pain. Other causes of vascular compromise include tumor, aneurysm,
histamine, and other biochemical irritants.
So, the lack of oxygen and glucose in an area of the brain can bring on a
headache. Elsewhere, other underlying causes can be evident. Some common
causes include low and high blood pressure with or without medication, blood
glucose changes, hormonal imbalances, eye strain, tension, TMJ (jaw problems),
exertion, allergies to foods or chemicals or medications,
digestive problems, chronic fatigue, lifestyle, psychological stress and the
most common, structural disturbances.
The solution is to identify and handle all the factors that are involved.
Often more than one factor needs to be addressed. A truly wholistic
approach considers the structural, biochemical, and psychological states of the
individual. More powerful drugs only suppress the end result, namely the
headache. The person's medical history is probably the most revealing
factor to guide a professional to an identifiable conclusion, then a variety
of "alternative" methods can be employed. The most common of headaches, the
tension headache, responds extremely well to chiropractic and cranial
therapy. Identifying biochemical and allergic tendencies can easily be done
by applied kinesiology muscle testing or blood lab testing from specialized
laboratories. Often detoxification procedures or repair of the digestive
tract as well as restoring functional nutrition will make the difference
between success and failure. Other techniques such as the herbs, vitamins,
diet, meridian therapy, stress reduction, allergy elimination techniques,
exercise, massage, and chiropractic can all be used together in handling
headaches. In fact a recent study, one of the most thorough studies of
migraine patients and chiropractic compiled from information gathered from
numerous studies over a 50-year period, found patients receiving
chiropractic care showed an improvement or cure rate of 72 to 90 percent.
(Studies conducted by J. Stuart Wight, DC, of Edinburgh, Scotland.)
The following are a few real case examples.
Joan came into the office
complaining of frontal headaches for the past six months. She stated that
the headaches were dull and started in the morning and wore off in the
afternoon. She had been diagnosed with simple tension headaches and told to
take aspirin. Her blood tests, including a thyroid profile, were negative.
My examination and consultation revealed a sub-normal body temperature and an
active reflex indicating thyroid and pituitary involvement. Joan was given
chiropractic adjustments to the cervical and dorsal spine and a few dietary
supplements that support the thyroid, as well as major dietary changes.
Within two weeks she no longer experienced any headaches and has remained
headache free for one year.
Mary entered the office complaining of headaches in the back of the neck and
radiating to the right eye. She had an extensive history of cervical and
head trauma. She had these headaches three to four times a month and they
lasted 2-4 days. She got double vision and nausea. Her primary treatment
for the past ten years had been heavy-duty pain medication that also affected
her ability to function. She was treated with a series of specific
chiropractic adjustments to the upper cervical spine as well as making
several cranial and TMJ corrections. After two months of treatment she no
longer needed to take medication and her headaches were reduced 60 to 70% in
frequency and duration.
Alex came to the office because he was experiencing sharp pain in his left
eye, chronic fatigue and depression. His symptoms had steadily increased in
the past four months and he had been told to take pain medication and get
more rest. Upon examination, extensive cranial and TMJ involvements were
revealed. X-rays of the face and jaw were negative, digestive stool
analysis tests revealed an abnormal bacterial environment and low enzyme
levels. Treatment consisted of cranial corrections, cervical adjustments, a
TMJ orthopedic device, dietary restrictions, and enzyme therapy. Within six
weeks his energy doubled and the headaches were completely gone.
It is not advisable to spend hundreds of dollars for an occasional headache
when 1-2 aspirin would do the trick. But, if you have severe headaches more
than three times a year or mild headaches monthly, you should be concerned
about finding the cause and eliminating the sources of the headaches. No
one treatment works for everyone, so find someone who practices in a
wholistic way. It is not enough to say "natural" because that is too limiting,
but rather seek someone who addresses the biochemical, structural and
psychological aspects. As a final thought, remember that headaches are not
Randy Schaetzke, D.C., D.I.B.A.K.