April showers bring… May showers? Although it’s been a very wet spring across the northeast, seasonal allergies are still kicking into full gear. As many are now suffering due to seasonal allergies, I find it appropriate to discuss a very broad topic:
Yes, that’s right… headaches. This is a catch-all term, as this could mean something as simple as a tension headache, a sinus headache, or as severe as a debilitating migraine. If only we could apply Chiropractic directly to the forehead. For time’s sake, I’ll focus on just a couple more relevant types of headaches and how Chiropractic, Acupuncture, and Chinese Herbs should be the first line of defense. As is a recurring theme in these newsletters, there is no such thing as a symptom without a cause. Headaches are nothing more than a symptom of what is actually causing the headache.
Literally meaning “headache from the neck,” this type of headache affects nearly 20% of all chronic headache sufferers and up to 2.5% of the general population.[i] Arguably, the extremely common “tension headache” falls into this category. The reasons for headaches from the neck are many, including muscular, osseous, neurologic, or vascular. This is the most common type of headache to occur from trauma (i.e. whiplash). Neck trauma causes misalignment of the bones in the neck, and often decreases the normal lordosis (frontwards curve) of the neck. This causes excessive strain on the muscles of the shoulders and upper back to hold up the head, and it forces the sub occipital muscles (very small muscles at the base of the head) to bear the head’s weight as well, which they do not normally do. Over time, this can lead to chronic inflammation and irritate the lesser and greater occipital nerves, which just so happens to produce pain in the upper neck, back of the head, and behind the eyes.
Typically, traditional treatment consists of muscle relaxers and NSAID pain relievers (Advil, Aspirin, etc.). In extreme cases, surgical “liberation” of the entrapped greater occipital nerve from impingement has provided some temporary relief. The temporary part is not surprising as surgery does not address the structure of the neck as a whole and why the nerve is irritated in the first place. If the headache is from a previous trauma to the neck causing subluxation of the bones in the neck, using NSAIDs will further add insult to injury as although the pain is not as noticeable, the problem causing it is still there and only getting worse. In fact, NSAIDs have been clinically shown to INCREASE and ACCELERATE articular damage by preventing the repair of damaged cartilage.[ii] This is why eventually the pain and dysfunction becomes too great for NSAIDs to help.
Chiropractic strives to understand the spine as a whole and uncover what is causing the headache and how to eliminate that cause. This frequently involves x-raying the neck to measure the curve and overall structure. The Chiropractic adjustment, usually in a series of visits, is performed to restore normal function to the neck and allow the body to heal the damaged nerves and surrounding tissue. A study published in JMPT to compare Chiropractic adjustment versus soft tissue treatment alone yielded very strong outcomes in the Chiropractic-treated group:
“The use of analgesics decreased by 36% in the manipulation group, but was unchanged in the soft-tissue group; […]. The number of headache hours per day decreased by 69% in the manipulation group, compared with 37% in the soft-tissue group; […]. Finally, headache intensity per episode decreased by 36% in the manipulation group, compared with 17% in the soft-tissue group […].”
A sinus headache can be caused by bacteria or viral infection, allergic irritation, or pressure from the buildup of fluid in the paranasal sinuses. It manifests most often as pain over the affected sinus coupled with a “pressure” feeling. Chronic sinus headaches, or even “sinusitis,” is typically diagnosed when symptoms persist for over three months. Often, prescription drugs are utilized to drain the sinuses and relieve the pain. Antibiotics are utilized if it appears a bacterial agent is involved. More drastic measures involve surgery to increase the diameter of the nasal passages and physically remove material. Surgery is, of course, a last resort. Ear infections are often a complication of chronic sinus headaches/infections due to the close relationship of the nasopharynx to the middle ear.
Conservative treatment without drugs consists of proper diagnosis. This is where Chinese herbs and acupuncture come in. We have been very successful in abating sinus headaches as well as treating their cause, which is often seasonal allergies. We are often able to identify what the causative agent is (mold, dust, dander, pollen, etc.) and use homeopathic treatment to desensitize the body to it. Raw organic honeycomb is also of great importance in desensitizing the body to pollen antigens naturally. The neck should be evaluated as well to ensure that upper cervical subluxation is not a factor.
If you, a friend, or a relative are suffering from headaches, then consider Chiropractic! You’ll be glad you did.
My door is always open,
Daniel J. Myerowitz, D.C., Dipl. Ac. (AACA)
Myerowitz Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic
291 Main Road
Holden ME 04429