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How does upper cervical care treat migraine headaches?

Posted in Head Pain Disorders on Apr 12, 2021

With migraine headaches, there is a difference between 1) cause, 2) effect and 3) triggers. 

The effects of migraine headaches are obvious: pain, nausea, visual and balance disturbances.

The triggers of migraine headaches are also commonly known: perfumes, stress, exercise, chocolate, caffeine, etc. However, we must be cautious that we do not confuse these things as the cause of migraine headaches.

If they were truly the cause of migraine headaches, then everyone who smells perfume, experiences stress, or eats chocolate would suffer. So, there must be a difference!

Think of it like this: can the wind cause a forest fire?

The answer is no. True, maybe the wind could knock down a power line that could start a fire. Nevertheless, there must be a spark. Then, if you add wind when there is already a fire burning, that is what can change a controlled burn into a raging inferno!

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So too, when it comes to migraine headaches, the triggers are like the wind … but there must be some other predisposing factor at play also! And whatever that is is the cause of migraine headaches.

 

What is the cause of migraine headaches?

When it comes to the cause of migraine headaches - i.e., the underlying condition - we recognise that they occur due to sensitisation of the connective tissue around the brain and spinal cord (called the dura mater) and due to an overload of a sensory processing centre in the brainstem (called the spinal trigeminal nucleus). 

Although the brain itself does not contain pain nerve receptors, the connective tissue around the brain certainly does! It contains a dense network of blood vessels, lymph channels, and nerve receptors that are susceptible to mechanical and chemical irritation.

An example of chemical irritation is a hangover.

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An example of physical irritation is pulling or straining of the connective tissue, like pulling on a piece of paper. Although the tissue may not rip, the force is it experiencing nevertheless may cause the sensation of a migraine head like tearing your skull apart.

The spinal trigeminal nucleus is the centre of the brainstem that processes all pain information from the nerve receptors in the head, face, and upper neck, including the dura mater.

Therefore, if there is a mechanical problem affecting any one of these areas, the information can be transmitted to the processes centre, which interprets the source of the pain potentially coming from everywhere!

What this means is that it is possible that a physical issue with the skull or neck could be the source of the nerve/dura irritation that is causing migraine headaches.

Of particular interest are the C1, C2, and C3 nerves of the upper neck that are involved with head and neck pain, but we will get to that shortly.

So, when it comes to the types of migraine headaches - e.g., migraines with aura treatment, migraines without aura treatment, cluster migraines, cluster headaches, vestibule migraine treatment, ocular migraine treatment, etc — the only real difference are the effects that individual people experience.

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The irony is that the underlying cause is often the same!

So when it comes to migraine headache treatment, the real key to finding lasting results is to identify the underlying cause of the condition, and not simply to give the condition - the effects - a name or “diagnosis.”   

 What is the cause? THAT is a far more impotent question

And an even more important question is, What can you do about it?

 

Do you want to treat the effect or correct the cause of migraine headaches?

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There is no single thing that causes migraine headaches or even irritation to the dura mater.

Nevertheless, two of the most common issues are 1) problems with the craniomandibular joints and 2) problems with the craniocervical joints.

The craniomandibular joints refer essentially to the skull and the jaw. In other words, structural issues with the skull or teeth can act as a source of irritation to the connective tissue or nerves that are responsible for the head, face, and neck sensation. If so, it means that you may need treatment with a neuromuscular dentist, an osteopath, a chiropractor, or craniopath, who focuses on the alignment of the skull itself.

In addition is the importance of the craniocervical joints, which refer to the C1 and C2 vertebrae in the upper neck. These vertebrae are physically tethered to the dura mater, which provides stability in your upper neck so that you are able to move your head properly, and also so that the blood flow is able to circulate properly around your brain.

Unfortunately, if you have ever suffered a head, neck, or whiplash injury, there could be a problem with the alignment and motion in your upper neck that you aren’t even aware of. 

Oftentimes, physiotherapy or massage is able to work out tight muscles that could be causing similar effects. However, if the C1 or C2 vertebrae are physically locked in an abnormal position, it takes more than often to unlock them.

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This is where a particular type of practitioner known as an atlas or upper cervical chiropractor may be able to help.

 

Upper cervical chiropractic and migraine headaches

There is no single thing that causes migraine headaches or even irritation to the dura mater.

An upper cervical chiropractor is a chiropractic doctor who has completed additional study beyond a normal university degree in the relationship between the vertebrae in the upper neck and the health of the brain and nerve system,

Unlike general forms of spinal manipulation, upper cervical chiropractic is specific and precise in correcting misalignments that affect the normal motion and function of the upper neck. 

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There is no cervical rotation, manipulation, popping, or cracking.

And because the upper neck can have a powerful effect on the connective tissues and neurology associated with the brain, it may well be able to help people also who experience migraine headaches, even if they feel like they’ve “tried everything else.”

Oftentimes, it is the degree of precision and the unique type of diagnosis that is performed first in order to determine if an upper cervical chiropractor can help. In brief, every human being is built differently on both the outside and the inside. 

This includes and bone and joint alignment.

So even though we may take normal x-rays, CTs, or MRIs from stock front-and-side angles, we do not see the unique three-dimensional shapes of the joints.

So what an upper cervical chiropractor does before doing any treatment is a series of physical and neurological tests in order to identify if there is a mechanical problem with your upper neck that could be contributing to your migraine headaches.

If so, they may perform a series of customised, 3D x-ray images that help show the exact location, direction, and degree of any misalignment in your neck in order to determine what the most appropriate course of care needs to be.

From there, they will recommend an individualised plan to help you not simply treat the effects, but attempt to resolve the underlying condition naturally - i.e., without drugs or surgery - so that you can enjoy the quality of life that you want.

It is in this analysis where upper cervical chiropractors often find that the difference between other forms of healthcare that also work on the neck is that you likely need a more precise application at a slightly different angle to help with your migraine headaches.

 

Migraine headache treatment and atlas chiropractic in Brisbane

We hope that you’ve found this article valuable and interesting.

If you’ve been suffering migraine headaches for a long time, we can appreciate how frustrating it can be even to consider the possibility of trying something else, especially if you’ve already been to plenty of migraine headache specialists, pain clinics physiotherapists, chiropractors, etc. 

We don’t have all the answers for everyone either (but wish that we could). 

So what we like to do is offer people with migraine headaches the opportunity to have a chat with our principal upper cervical chiropractor, Dr. Jeffrey Hannah, to discuss your unique condition and to answer any questions to determine if upper cervical chiropractic may be a good option for you.

Dr. Jeffrey Hannah is an advanced certified instructor with the Blair upper cervical technique. He is an international lecturer, published author, and recognised leader in the field of upper cervical specific chiropractic care.

Our practice, Atlas Health, is the premier upper cervical healthcare centre located in North Lakes (Brisbane, Australia).

Our purpose is the help people with long-standing conditions including migraine headaches, often who have already been to dozens of other practitioners, discover hope and long-term solutions so that they can enjoy the quality of life that they desire most. 

Dr. Hannah offers a complementary over-the-phone 15-minute consultation where you can ask any question you may have so that you can decide if care may be right for you. 

If you would like to schedule your no-obligation consultation, you can contact our office via email at the Contact Us link at the top of this page, or call us direct at 07 3188 9329.

We look forward to hearing from you and will offer our best to assist you.

Atlas Health Australia - “Hope, healing, and wellbeing from above-down, inside-out.”

 

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Watson DH, Drummond PD. Cervical referral of head pain in migraineurs: effects on the nociceptive blink reflex. Headache. 2014 Jun;54(6):1035-45. doi: 10.1111/head.12336. Epub 2014 Mar 25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24666216

Varatharajan S, Ferguson B, Chrobak K, et al. Are non-invasive interventions effective for the management of headaches associated with neck pain? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders by the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury Management (OPTIMa) Collaboration. Eur Spine J. 2016 Jul;25(7):1971-99. doi: 10.1007/s00586-016-4376-9. Epub 2016 Feb 6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26851953

Westersund CD, Scholten J, Turner RJ. Relationship between craniocervical orientation and center of force of occlusion in adults. Cranio. 2016 Oct 20:1-7. doi: 10.1080/08869634.2016.1235254. [Epub ahead of print] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27760504

Wong JJ, Shearer HM, Mior S, et al. Are manual therapies, passive physical modalities, or acupuncture effective for the management of patients with whiplash-associated disorders or neck pain and associated disorders? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders by the OPTIMa collaboration. Spine J. 2016 Dec;16(12):1598-1630. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.08.024. Epub 2015 Dec 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707074 Chiropractic care may benefit severe TMJ sufferers

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