Tight spinal joints create pain by having pain nerves overstimulated. Tight muscles themselves are also pain-sensitive if they do not go through the normal relaxation phase that a muscle needs to do to release lactic acid and other breakdown products and take in new oxygen-rich blood. Upper neck joints, nerves and muscles, when irritated, refer pain to the neck, skull, jaw, face and side and top of head.
Chiropractic adjustments are precise manipulations directed at the exact locked or jammed segment. Often, there is a joint “click” or “pop” due to the release of a gas bubble within the joint fluid inside the joint space. This happens due to a sudden change in the pressure inside the joint from the precise, but quick, joint movement. The result is immediate relaxation of the micro-muscles crossing that particular joint, allowing better movement and pain relief. Other nerves around the joint send reflex messages to the brain which, in turn, releases small amounts of the brains natural pain-killing opiates (endorphins and enkephalins).
Other reflex effects of stimulating upper neck nerves and relaxing local muscles is a change in the amount of muscular work that the neck has to do to move. Balance can be improved, as the brains balance – feedback it gets from moving joints is restored.
As muscle-tension headaches are a known trigger of more severe migraine headaches, improvement in neck muscle tension and easier movement may result in a reduction in the number or severity of migraine headaches. Studies into chiropractic management of migraines have reported a 60% drop in the number and intensity of migraines.
For most headache presentations, a course of treatment of up to 12 visits over 6 weeks is a “treatment trial”, much in the same way as a medical practitioner prescribing a different drug…one tries that approach for long enough to give the input a chance to work.
Look out for my next blog on What else chiropractors do for headaches?