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Should You See a Chiropractor for Migraine?

As a long-time chronic migraineur, I’ve been the recipient of numerous “have you tried X?” suggestions. Topping the list of recent suggestions given by well-meaning friends, family, and strangers is chiropractic care. Though considered an alternative therapy, spinal manipulation does have side effects and it isn’t for everyone. So I decided to do some research.

In one randomized, controlled trial,1 83 volunteer migraineurs were treated with chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy. Participants kept a standard migraine diary for the length of the study, which lasted for six months. Researchers established a baseline for each participant during the first two months. Treatment occurred during months three and four.

At the end of the six-month period, researchers used the diaries to compare the participants’ migraine frequency, intensity, duration, disability, symptoms, and medication usage before and after the chiropractic treatment. These results were then compared to a control group of 40 individuals who kept the same diary for the same length of time but didn’t undergo treatment.

According to the study, 22% of the participants who underwent treatment reported a 90% reduction in migraine frequency. Another 49% reported a reduction in migraine intensity. Participants treated with chiropractic spinal manipulation also experienced significant improvement in disability associated with their attacks and a significant reduction in medication usage when compared to the control group.

Why this happened, though, remains unclear. According to the study’s authors, it may simply be that the chiropractic treatment served as an effective stress reliever:

“The results of this study support previous results2 showing that some people report significant improvement in migraines after chiropractic SMT [spinal manipulative therapy]. [However,] a high percentage (>80%) of participants reported stress as a major factor for their migraines. It appears probable that chiropractic care has an effect on the physical conditions related to stress and that in these people the effects of the migraine are reduced.”

If the improvements experienced by the participants in the study were a result of decreased stress and not the spinal manipulations themselves, then it seems probable that any therapy or activity that serves as a potent stress reliever would be as effective in treating migraine as chiropractic care. (This could also be behind the effectiveness of yoga and essential oils experienced by some migraineurs.) If, however, the physical manipulations are somehow changing the body’s response to stress, then we could expect chiropractic care to work better than other stress-reducing therapies.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of research in this area yet, and none that I could find that compares chiropractic care to other alternative therapies in the treatment of migraine. One comparison study does exist, but it compares chiropractic care to a drug: amitriptyline. In that study,3 spinal manipulation appeared nearly as effective in reducing migraine frequency and intensity as amitriptyline (40% reduction compared to 49%), though combining the treatments didn’t add any extra benefits.

Based on these studies, it seems chiropractic care may be worth a try if you don’t have any contraindications to treatment (e.g., osteoporosis, nerve damage, numbness, tingling, and/or loss of strength in an arm or leg). It is worth noting, however, that the studies done so far have been very small, and more research needs to be done to know if and why spinal manipulations help migraine. Anecdotal evidence also seems to suggest that migraineurs who experience consistent and/or frequent neck pain may have better luck with chiropractic care than others.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Tuchin PJ, Pollard H, Bonello R. A randomized controlled trial of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy for migraine. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2000 Feb;23(2):91-5.
  2. Peter J. Tuchin, Grad. Dip. A twelve month clinical trials of chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy for migraine. Australas. Chiropr. Osteopathy. Jul 1999; 8(2): 61–65.
  3. Nelson CF, Bronfort G, Evans R, Boline P, Goldsmith C, Anderson AV. The efficacy of spinal manipulation, amitriptyline and the combination of both therapies for the prophylaxis of migraine headache. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics . 1998, 21(8):511-519.

Comments

  • VibekeThunoldLudvigsen
    1 year ago

    I went to a naprapath ( He works with both muscles and bones) and after about 7 treatments I got the help nobody else or any medication could give me. During this treatment I got worse, and I wantet do give up, He told me it could get worse before it got better. I kept on going and it helped. I’ve suffered from migranes for 32 years. Now I’ve been 70 days free from migraine. My body, my liver thanks me, and my family and friends thank my naprapath.

  • k_nelson
    4 years ago

    The three weeks I went to a chiropractor were the worst weeks in my life..so much pain.

  • VibekeThunoldLudvigsen
    1 year ago

    It gets worse before it gets better.

  • Judy H
    5 years ago

    I have suffered from migraines for 40 years. To please my well intentioned, but not so wise mother, I tried seeing her chiropractor for migraines. At least 1/3 of the time that I left his office after an adjustment, I had a migraine hit me before I had even backed my car out of his parking lot. I gave up on chiropractic. My husband was very glad, because a co-worker of his had an elderly uncle whose neck was broken by a chiropractor. The uncle died of complications within a few days.

  • kwaichang
    5 years ago

    I have suffered from the big “M” for decades. Initially resisting chiropractic care I found that after several visits I could tell my headaches were coming not as frequently as before. Now although it has been ages, I find that chiropractic adjustment helps me reduce the frequency when I keep up my appointments. When I skip one, I often wind up with multi-day migraines.

  • LindaG
    5 years ago

    I have had two neurologists tell me to NEVER get chiropractic adjustments to the NECK. Occasionally, people who have their necks adjusted will have a stroke.

  • Kathy
    5 years ago

    Thanks for the article, interesting, but having read replies from others it seems that chiropractice should be undertaken with caution. My migrains are associated with my menstrual cycle, although I have often wondered if my back injury has any affect on them. Healthy eating, lots of sleep, magnesium baths and vitamin supplements seem to help , although drugs ( amyltriptan and Naproxen ) combined is the only thing that completely removes the pain.

  • Beth
    5 years ago

    I went to a chiropractor for neck pain…result of a severe whip lash. The back manipulation was ok but anytime she adjusted my neck, I ended up in pain. I gave up going after a year. I’ve since been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease and arthritis in my entire spine. The adjustments actually made my headaches worse. At the time, I hadn’t been diagnosed with migraines yet.

  • body
    5 years ago

    Hi mrst53,

    I have had acupuncture since 2001. Great help, along with healthy diet and lifestyle habits, exercise, and stress-management therapies like meditation, in decreasing my attacks from chronic to low frequency and breaking my dependence on medication.

  • TracyM09
    5 years ago

    I’ve got a wonderful Chiropractor who has tried so hard to help my Migraines, to no avail. I figure keeping everything balanced and in alignment can at least prevent worse Migraines!

    Be Well

  • Tim Banish
    5 years ago

    Great article, and as mentioned proceed with caution if you have any medical issues. Finding a good chiropractor can be difficult, but there are many out there to try.
    I used several chiropractors after an accident when nothing else worked. It did help my back pain, but that was before I started getting migraines. After my migraines started chiropractic care did nothing for them.

  • mrst53
    5 years ago

    I used to get treatments and it did help my migraines, but in 2001 I was in a car accident that caused problems with my spine and I was told to never have any more manipulations done to my neck… So now I am a firm believer in acupuncture. It is the best thing for me, Plus massage. A lot of my headaches are muscle and stress related. I am 5 feet, so I have to stretch for things and therefore I put my shoulders and back out of whack a lot of times. Be very careful choosing your Chiropractor, if he does not want to know your medical history, say good bye and walk out the door. He is not for you.

  • Cathy
    5 years ago

    Hi – I read this article with great interest and appreciate the note Sarah put in that spinal manipulation has side effects and is not for everyone. I am so glad that some of you got relief from your chiropractic care, but I am a patient that had a very different outcome and can serve as a cautionary tale. Prior to 2008 I was having episodic migraines – maybe 1 every 4 to 6 weeks that usually lasted 3 days. I went to a chiropractor that had provided back care to me a couple of years before in the hope that spinal manipulation would provide some relief. The visits seemed to leave me feeling better, but during one of them his manipulation partially herniated a disc in my cervical spine. I knew something was wrong immediately. By the time I got home I had the worst migraine of my life. And for months it never really went away. Through a cousin I finally found my way to MHNI, the first specialists who were able to help me better manage the chronic migraines. Today I still have a continuous lower level headache with frequent severe migraine “spikes”, but I am a lot better than I was right after this happened. I like to think of myself as a “work in progress”! I would never tell anyone not to consider chiropractic care. And I have gotten great help from other alternative therapies such as yoga and meditation. Just be aware that it really is not for every patient and be sure you thoroughly check out the chiropractor to whom you are going.

  • Kathy
    5 years ago

    Poor you! Sounds horrendous! The thought of daily headaches and especially migraines terrifies me! Twice a month is bad enough !

  • Kat
    5 years ago

    I’m one who has received benefit from chiropractic adjustment. When the top of my neck shifts, I get some of my worst migraines. My husband can often stretch and eventually get his to pop back, I can’t, but I’ve had a long history of issues since my first neck injury.

    My very best response has been through working on the Radiant Recovery program. Though I started it to improve my diet, with the eventual aim of painlessly getting off sugar, several people said they had migraines when they started the program, and they went away. I’m only on the third step (halfway) and they are greatly reduced in intensity. Because I’ve had episodes all my life, and because I have various triggers, I’ve adopted a wait and see attitude. Having said that, I’m thrilled with the results so far.

  • Kat
    5 years ago

    I forgot to mention that my chiropractor did agree that increased protein helps to repair muscle, so he thought it was logical that RR was helping my adjustments to hold longer as well as addressing some low blood sugar issues, among other things. I’m curious to see how it affects my heat/sun trigger next year. Hopefully I’ll be able to do more gardening.

  • body
    5 years ago

    Hi Sarah,

    Good article! I like the way you draw attention to stress, given stress plays such a big role in migraine (whether perceived as a trigger or factor that makes us more susceptible to triggers or, as is more likely shown in recent studies, is both) and the role integrative therapies can have in helping us manage our body’s response. Definitely need more research to establish scientific-based efficacy and standards of practice for many therapies but a number have shown positive effects 🙂

  • Kathy Olson
    5 years ago

    Can anyone recommend a chiropractor in the SF bay area that specializes in migraine? I’d like to give this a try.
    Thank you!

  • Elizabeth
    5 years ago

    Hi Kathy 🙂 I emailed one of the chiropractors our family uses and recommends with your question. Not only are they good for chiropractic care, but all of our chiropractors have been very personal, accessible and helpful like this:) Here is his reply below.

    Hi Elizabeth!

    You are in luck! The link below shows all the Gonstead chiropractors near San Francisco. Have her follow the link and research who seems the best for her. She may want to meet with a few of them to see which chiropractic physician she likes the most. Hope all is well and have a wonderful day.

    http://gonstead.com/find-a-gonstead-doctor/?addr=san+francisco&distance=15&findaddr=Find+by+Address#trg-results

    This should be a helpful link to anyone looking. I agree with his advice…go check out a few and see which one seems like a good fit for you. Feel free to ask them your questions and concerns. If it doesn’t feel right, move on. Don’t give up! Also, his website under his name has lots of great articles and general info about chiropractic care that explains a lot.

    **Edited by moderator to remove personal contact information**

  • Elizabeth
    5 years ago

    I went to a chiropractor as a “may as well try it, It can’t hurt and nothing else is helping…” option a year and a half ago and it changed my life! I have an atypical migraine condition and was seeing neurologists for it as well as neuropathy pain and on increasing medications and worsening symptoms. I went through a treatment plan getting adjusted twice a week for a month then once a week for a month then once a month, etc. The results were very effective for me. My chiropractor got me off all the medications I was on as well. Once I was feeling so much better I also went through a 21-day organic detox through Standard Process that my chiropractor recommended, added in regular exercise, changed my diet, and lost 42 pounds over the next several months, all of which has improved my overall health dramatically. My 15 year old son and husband did this with me, both seeing health benefits also. I am a chiropractic enthusiast and recommend a good one to everyone I meet!! They are all different,just like dentists, so don’t give up if you didn’t find one that worked for you. My migraine symptoms stem from my neck, so adjustments as well as muscle stim, stretching exercises to loosen neck muscles that pull my neck and cause tension are important. Finding a chiropractor that incorporates those things as well as the adjustment is important. My chiropractor took xrays to see where my issues stemmed from and worked from there. Don’t give up 🙂

  • susan-jilliansmith
    5 years ago

    Did you include information about the number of strokes that have happened to migraineurs who got chiropractic care?
    http://whatstheharm.net/chiropractic.html

    Also was a case that took up a lot of attention here in Canada as the patient had migraine… and was assured that chiro treatments are “harmless”. This implies that even if they don’t get relief… it won’t kill them to see a chiro. Not true.
    You need to include that kind of information in articles that give any overview of chiropractic treatment.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    Susan,

    I didn’t include that specific information, but I did start the article by saying that chiropractic care does have side effects and it is not for everyone. That’s why we all need to do our own research. Thank you for speaking up about this.

    Warm regards,

    Sarah

  • Elizabeth
    5 years ago

    Hello…I don’t mean to disregard what you are saying about caution in choosing a treatment plan at all, but while there may be incidents where a certain treatment was a problem for a patient, I think its good to keep in mind that that is the case for all treatment options. I have more than one friend that has chosen the surgical option for migraines or herniated discs with more problems and loss of motion and ability afterwards (irreversible after surgery!) than before and many medications cause some pretty significant side effects. Unwanted results are sometimes a part of any treatment option. In looking into research for my own health, I found the rates of unwanted results to be significantly higher with surgeries or resulting from medications that were not the right fit with resulting side effects. Also, for anyone thinking of trying chiropractic, keep in mind that the chiropractor obviously has a lot to loose if they were the cause of stroke. A responsible chiropractor will make sure to take xrays or other tests first. Mine wanted the results of my MRI (since I had had one) before adjusting me and made sure my venous structure was in good shape. Otherwise, I would have been a risk for stroke no matter what, not because of the adjustment. I can’t tell you how relieving and good the adjustment feels to me, and I have gone in during a migraine and see results before I have left the clinic. But that’s my case…my neck causes pressure on nerves that get irritated. Not meaning to challenge what you are saying, but just giving the other side for consideration. I fully understand what a big decision all of this is. I just know that the three chiropractors my family has had the privilege of going to are very professional and very knowledgeable, they just have a different approach to health care. They encourage wellness and look for ways to get to the root (which was why I went on to do the 21-day cleanse and began healthy exercise and overall lifestyle changes…this was from the chiropractors. The neurologists/docs suggested medication trials, which did have resulting side effects.) I don’t mean to be so long-winded, but I am such an advocate now! I am so thankful for my own health journey and never knew it was an option before. Thanks for listening 🙂

  • Meggietye
    5 years ago

    Be super careful who you allow to touch your neck. You cannot be too careful. Brain Stem Strokes happen to people with chiropractic care multiple times per year, every year.

  • Luna
    5 years ago

    I’ve gone to chiropractors off and on over the years but for back/shoulder issues. They never made any difference in the migraines. Last year started having neck problems that went right up to the head to migraines. The chiropractic treatments may have helped my neck but am extremely sensitive to odors. Just going into the office was difficult. Sticking my face on the furniture that had taken in all the smells of previous clients was harder on me than the treatments were helpful. Saw no help with acupuncture or massage either.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    I’m sensitive to smells too, though lights are worse for me. Many of my neurologists’ offices were flooded with fluorescent lighting that made it impossible to wait even 10 minutes in their lounges. I stopped going to them pretty quickly. I haven’t tried acupuncture, though I have done some research on it. Thank you for reading and sharing your story!

  • LAnnSmith
    5 years ago

    I tried chiropractic and didn’t have any improvement with it. In fact each time I went it triggered a migraine, either immediately during the session or within 2 hours. The doctor told me he was getting close to the correction and to keep trying, but I quit going. It was not good for me.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    I’ve heard that can happen. I’m sorry you didn’t find relief. I hope you find some soon! Thank you for sharing.

  • PlummInk
    5 years ago

    I saw a chiropractor for almost 2 years, spending thousands of dollars, with no change in my migraines. In fact they got worse. We realized that any manipulation of my neck exasperated my migraine symptoms. I have had better luck with acupuncture and biofeedback.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    I’ve heard some good things about biofeedback. I’m glad you’re finding things that work for you. Thank you for sharing. It helps to know what others have tried.

  • migrainestl
    5 years ago

    I believe in chiropractic care for certain ailments, but have not had success in reducing my chronic migraine pain or frequency by seeing one. I have gone regularly & not–regardless, no change. It’s great if it works for some people, but in my case it didn’t.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    Thank you for commenting. It’s important for us to hear what works and doesn’t for one another, though all of our symptoms and prognoses are different. Thank you for reading.

  • JanML
    5 years ago

    I agree that chiropractic care may be appropriate for migraines if the primary migraine triggers are related to mechanical or stress problems. However, chiropractic care did nothing to decrease my migraines, perhaps because my primary triggers were chemical in nature (certain foods and hormonal fluctuations).

    On the other hand, chiropractic care did greatly improve the nagging pain in my lower back, so it wasn’t a total loss for me!

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    Jan,

    Yes, it seems it works best for stress and mechanical-related problems. At least you got some relief though! 🙂

  • Pisastero
    5 years ago

    I saw a chiropractor, as I do have neck pain associated with my chronic migraines. He did a special manipulation and I felt am incredible release. I had three pain free weeks and I thought it was a miracle. I signed up for a long term treatment plan, and committed to going twice a week for many months. Pretty soon my pain was back, no real change. After many more months, I gave up, $800 poorer but grateful for the short period of relief.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    Every little bit helps! I’m sorry it faded out on you. I hope you find something else to help soon.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    5 years ago

    Thank you Sarah for reinforcing what we’ve been saying for years!!

    Nancy

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    You’re welcome, Nancy! Thanks for the appreciation. 🙂

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