Migraine is a neurological condition. The hallmark symptom of migraine is an intense headache, often described as pounding or throbbing. Itâ€™s usually accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light or sound.
While thereâ€™s no cure for migraine, there are various treatments to address its symptoms and side effects, including medication or lifestyle changes.
Chiropractic treatments are one type of alternative treatment. Chiropractic care usually consists of manual therapy, including manipulating the spine.
Multiple clinical studies have found chiropractic care to be effective for some types of migraine. However, other studies have found that it may be due to a placebo effect. What works for one person may be different for another.
Potential benefits of chiropractic treatment for migraine
While some studies have found chiropractic treatment to be helpful for migraine, the methodology is often questionable with varying quality, according to a review of 21 studies. Large studies need to be done, as most studies are with small groups of people.
A 2017 study found that there was no significant difference between the placebo group and the group that received spinal manipulation. They both reported a reduction in migraine days. More research is needed to test chiropractic treatmentâ€™s effectiveness.
Possible risks and side effects of chiropractic treatment for migraine
Risks and side effects are possible with any treatment, including chiropractic care. It can be hard to get accurate data of adverse effects of manual therapy. This is because, unlike trials with drugs, manual therapy clinical trials do not always report adverse effects.
One 2017 review found that mild to moderate adverse effects were common in both children and adults following spinal manipulation. They were said to occur in anywhere between 23 and 83 percent of people. These adverse effects included:
- increased pain or discomfort in the muscles, bones, tendons, or ligaments
- tingling or numbness in upper limbs
These effects typically went away on their own within 24 hours.
More serious adverse effects were also reported in both children and adults. They were rare. Estimates of serious adverse effects ranged from 1 per 2 million manipulations, to 13 per 10,000 people. Serious adverse effects included:
- spinal cord injury after cervical, thoracic, or lumbar manipulation
- cauda equina syndrome
- collapsed lung
- worsening of lumbar disc herniations
Another 2017 meta-analysis found that while some adverse effects and serious adverse effects were reported, reporting standards and guidelines meant there would likely be underreporting, and the methodology of many studies was flawed. The most frequently reported adverse effects, including serious ones, were:
- vertebral artery dissection
- increased pain
- worsening of symptoms
Before seeing a chiropractor, ask your doctor or migraine specialist whether itâ€™s safe for you to visit a chiropractor. They can also let you know about risks for your personal situation.
Is chiropractic treatment safe for children?
Children can and do get migraine. While the treatments are similar, many parents may be hesitant to give medication to their children. Some children have side effects from medications. Many migraine medications are made with adults in mind.
Children do get chiropractic care for various ailments. In 2010, the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners found that about 17 percent of people getting chiropractic care were younger than 18. However, the evidence that exists is low quality and not enough to draw accurate conclusions.
The American Chiropractic Association found evidence of adverse effects from chiropractic treatments in children, but said they were minimal.
Speak with your childâ€™s pediatrician about whether they recommend chiropractic care for migraine. If you do seek chiropractic care, find someone with experience working with children.
Does chiropractic care treat other types of headaches?
People see chiropractors for other types of headache, not just migraine. Headache is a common complaint among those who see a chiropractor.
Cervicogenic headaches can look a lot like migraine. The main difference is that while migraine starts in the brain, this kind of headache stems from the neck or the base of the skull.
A 2017 randomized, single-blinded study found that those getting spinal manipulation therapy reported improvements in cervicogenic headache, compared with a placebo. More research is needed with larger, double-blinded studies with placebo treatment and chiropractic treatment.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Many people with this kind of headache have occurrences about once or twice a month, although some people have them more often. Common therapeutic approaches used by chiropractors include:
- headache trigger advice
- spinal manipulation
- soft tissue therapy
- stress management guidance
When to see a doctor for migraine
If your headaches start to interfere with everyday life, see a doctor. It may help to keep a headache log, noting where the pain is and when it occurs. Let the doctor know where you have pain, or if you get more than one long lasting headache a month.
Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you or someone you know has a headache that includes these symptoms:
- slurred speech or drooping of one side of the face
- new weakness in the arm or leg
- an aura in which symptoms last more than an hour
- loss of consciousness
- sudden and intense onset
Sometimes, symptoms of a stroke can seem like a migraine headache.
While chiropractic care may be considered a complementary or alternative treatment for migraine, some people do find relief from it.
More research is needed to definitively recommend it as a first-line treatment. If you are interested in trying it, speak with a doctor to see if itâ€™s safe for you.
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