What is the correlation between spinal manipulation and headache relief?
Headaches are a common complaint that can be caused by a range of factors. Those that can be traced to disorders in the neck are called cervicogenic headaches, and this type of headache may affect as many as 20 percent1 of patients experiencing chronic head pain. Although their symptoms are similar to those of tension headaches and migraines, cervicogenic headaches are often a result of injury or other trauma. Because cervicogenic headaches often restrict a patient’s range of motion, this condition can seriously impact physical abilities and overall quality of life.
New research published in Chiropractic & Osteopathy supports the case for using chiropractic spinal manipulation to treat cervicogenic headaches. A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Western States in Portland, Oregon, compared the effects of spinal manipulation treatment to light massage on a group of 80 patients suffering from cervicogenic headache. They found that over a 12-week period, 42% of study participants who received spinal manipulation treatment reported significant pain reduction compared to just 23% of those who received massage. During that same period, the chiropractic group experienced a greater reduction in the number of headaches (64% versus 46%) and reported that pain interfered less with their daily activities.
After 24 weeks, patients in the chiropractic group continued to experience greater benefit from their treatment, with 56% reporting that their head pain was less disabling compared to 38% improvement among the control group. Over three-quarters of participants who received spinal manipulation treatment noted some reduction in the number of headaches during the course of the study.
The study’s authors conclude that, “Spinal manipulation had a clinically important advantage over light massage in headache pain, number, and disability.” Their research shows that chiropractic treatment can have substantial and lasting benefits for a significant percentage of people suffering from cervicogenic headaches.
Haas M, Schneider M, Vavrek D. Illustrating risk difference and number needed to treat from a randomized controlled trial of spinal manipulation for cervicogenic headache. Chiropractic & Osteopathy 2010; 18:9
 Haldeman S, Dagenais S. Cervicogenic headaches: a critical review. Spine J.2001; 1(1):31 -46.