Migraines are severe, recurring headaches that can cause intense throbbing or pulsing in one area of the head, often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Chronic migraines are diagnosed when a person experiences a headache for 15 or more days per month for at least three months, with at least eight of those headaches being migraines.
While traditional treatments for migraines typically focus on medications and lifestyle changes, some people turn to chiropractic care as a complementary or alternative therapy.
Chiropractic Care for Migraines
Chiropractic care involves manual manipulation of your spine, with the goal of improving spinal alignment and reducing pain and tension. Some chiropractors also offer additional treatments such as massage, physical therapy, and lifestyle counseling.
A number of studies have investigated the efficacy of chiropractic care for migraines, with mixed results.
One study, published in 2011, concluded that chiropractic care with spinal manipulation might, in some cases, improve migraine and cervicogenic headaches. However, the researchers also note that a general recommendation cannot be made for or against the use of chiropractic spinal manipulation for patients with chronic tension-type headaches.
A more thorough randomized controlled trial conducted in 2016 found that the apparent benefits of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy (CSMT) for migraines are probably due to a placebo response. The study separated 104 migraine experiencers into 3 treatment groups and monitored their migraine reports over a period of 17 months.
All three groups—the CSMT treatment group, a placebo group receiving fake chiropractic maneuvers, and a control group without spinal manipulation therapy—experienced a reduction in the number of migraine days per month. The reduction was not significantly different between the groups.
The placebo effect is a phenomenon in which a patient experiences improvement in their symptoms due to the belief that a treatment will work, rather than the treatment itself. The placebo effect is commonly observed in alternative treatments like chiropractic care, acupuncture, and homeopathic remedies.
In the context of chiropractic care for migraines, a patient who believes that a chiropractor will help their migraines may experience an improvement in their symptoms simply because they believe that it will. This can be due to a combination of physical and psychological factors, such as the release of endorphins, the reduction of stress and anxiety, and the improvement of sleep.
Additionally, the hands-on nature of chiropractic care and the close interaction between the patient and chiropractor can create a sense of care and concern, which can further contribute to the placebo effect. The chiropractor may also be able to provide education and advice on lifestyle changes, such as exercise, diet, and stress management, which could also contribute to the placebo effect.
While the placebo effect can be a powerful tool in the management of migraines and other conditions, it is important to understand that it is not in any way a valid substitute for evidenced-based treatments.
Risks of Chiropractic Spinal Manipulative Therapy
While chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy is generally considered safe, there are some risks associated with the therapy. A systematic review from 2017 looked at 118 safety studies. They found that 46% of the reviews expressed that CSMT is safe, 13% expressed that CMST is harmful, and 42% were neutral or unclear.
Before experimenting with alternative treatments and therapies, it is generally recommended that you consult with your primary doctor. They will be able to diagnose your condition and determine if chiropractic care is appropriate for you.