We Treat Migraine and Headache Pain Without Drugs
Nearly 45 million people in the United States live with chronic headaches. About seven million report debilitating headaches that last for hours at a time, at least every two days. It is estimated that 157 million workdays are lost due to headaches and two billion dollars are spent on over-the-counter painkillers to treat headache symptoms each year.
Biomechanics of the head and neck
The head is comprised of 28 bones that articulate with each other, much like continental shelves on the earth’s surface. Some bones define the surface of our skull, while others go deep into our head where they articulate with other cranial bones, connective tissue, the brain itself and various glands (pituitary, hypothalamus, etc.)
The central nervous system lies within the tree-trunk shaped structure (spinal cord) that connects most of the major nerves of our body to our brain. This entire structure is surrounded by strong connective tissues which act as protector and shock absorber, as our spinal cord joins and infuses with the tissues of the brain. From the brain, the spinal cord and its protective fascial sleeve travel down through the vertebrae to its anchor at the coccyx.
Thus, the head is composed of remarkable and complex pain-sensitive structures, all of which are surrounded and infused with very strong connective tissues called fascia. Our body’s fascia is actually a continuous weave — a very strong three-dimensional ‘sweater’ that runs from the top of our head through our neck, shoulders, back and down to our feet.
The head rests at the top of the spine within this fascial sweater. Restricted tissues below the head may create unnatural pressures on the structures of our head and neck, creating a straight-jacket effect that causes or perpetuates headaches.
For this reason, we take a full-body approach when evaluating chronic headaches. In doing so, we find that headaches often accompany the stooped, forward head posture common to certain professions, such as dentists, hairdressers and people who work in front of computers.
In essence, the head must adapt its position in space according to the position of the much larger structures below it–the spine, back and pelvis. Thus, chronic or recurring headaches are often the result of sustained muscle contraction, compensatory postures and fascial pulls or joint restrictions further down the body. For this reason, cranial imbalances may occur from structural imbalance in the pelvis, sacrum, lumbosacral junction or base of the skull.We find a major contributory factor to headaches to be mechanical and soft tissue dysfunction of the mid-back, where thick, tight mid-back muscles create a strong pull at the base of the skull and into the head.
Further down the spine, we find that dysfunctions of the sacral joints (in the pelvis) and surrounding musculature and fascia (connective tissue) may also contribute to chronic headaches. Strong connections from the low and mid-back can pull through the neck to the base of the skull, causing or perpetuating headaches. Unless these tissues are freed from their patterns of spasm and myofascial adhesions, the headaches will continue and, eventually, worsen.
Strong attachments of the spinal cord to the tailbone (coccyx) can cause a significant pull up through the spinal cord to its attachment at the base of the skull. Thus, when a person falls onto her/his tailbone or has a physical trauma there (auto accident, physical or sexual abuse), the tailbone can be pushed forward. When that happens, the spinal cord is pulled down sharply, often creating a strong pull on its next attachment at the base of the skull, causing headaches. This premise is at the core of our approach to migraine headache treatment.
Why do I get persistent or chronic headaches or migraines?
While some headaches are caused by medical conditions such as hormonal or endocrine imbalances, we find that most recurring headaches are caused or exacerbated by mechanical factors. These include muscle tension of the facial, cranial, neck and chewing muscles and restricted cranial bone mobility. Muscles in spasm may impair circulation within the head and neck due to their pressure on blood vessels, causing pain. Compression of blood vessels at the base of the skull can cause headaches as blood flow is slowed from leaving the enclosed skull.
Any of these conditions may be exacerbated by poor work postures. Adhesions caused by inflammation at the head, neck or related structures can also be a direct cause of headaches, as strong glue-like bonds pull on pain sensitive structures within the head.
Patients with mechanical headache pain often report that they feel a place in their head or neck “where the headache starts or resides.” We generally find this patient feedback to be accurate and important. It helps us examine the mechanical forces that cause or impact the patient’s chronic headaches and relieve them using hands-on techniques, without surgery or drugs.
A migraine headache is often severe, lasting anywhere between several hours to several days. The associated pain can be pulsating or throbbing on either or both sides of the head. The headache is sometimes accompanied by visual disturbances, sensitivity to light or sound, or digestive symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
In most cases, we have found that the direct cause of or a major contributor to migraines headaches is soft tissue tightness at:
- the base of the skull,
- one or both temples or eyes
- the top of the head was the direct cause
- areas significantly below the skull (neck, shoulders, back, surgical scars, or even the tailbone).
The primary goal of our manual therapy, the Wurn Technique®, is to increase mobility and decrease pain. We are highly skilled in using our hands to palpate tightened areas of the head, neck and back until the tensions release. This appears to reduce adhesions, decrease pain and improve mobility.
Freed of the glue-like adhesions, most patients find their cycle of recurring headaches to be significantly improved or completely eliminated after therapy. As pain begins to resolve, we work to restore alignment, balance, and mobility to the entire body, so that headaches do not return.
Traditional migraine headache treatment methods vary considerably and many people do not obtain complete pain relief after conservative treatment such as traditional physical therapy or medications. Chiropractic care may help for a period of time but unless we address the strong, underlying adhesions that pull the cranial structures out of balance, chronic headache pain persists. Injections such as nerve blocks may address the symptoms but do little to treat the cause of the headaches. Surgery for headaches is extremely rare and considered a last-resort treatment.