Last month a paper was published in The Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics where they looked at some of the factors that make chronic migraine sufferers different than everyone else.
They found that, compared to people who don’t have headaches, if you have regular migraine headaches, you will have some sort of neck problem. If you have headaches, you will probably have less motion in your neck, and your neck will give you enough problems that you will score on a standardized Neck Disability Index.
While these guys claim that little is known about the link between migraines and neck problems, they seem to have found further proof that there is some relationship. If you have neck pain, you might also be having some migraines. There’s a correlation.
These guys claim that there is some commonality between the sensory nerves in the neck converging with the trigeminal nerve nucleus in the brainstem. The trigeminal nerve carries sensations of touch and pain from the face to the brain.
I don’t know if that plays a role in migraines or not, but they did NOT mention my favorite theory on why neck problems can give you headaches. When there is a disturbance in the neck, this can upset the balance of signals going to another part of the brainstem that has serotonin-producing nerves.
When the serotonin-producing nerves are sending the wrong signals, they can make the blood vessels surrounding the brain contract and relax in a cycle. This can cause the throbbing sensation that you get with a migraine headache, and it will allow inflammatory chemicals to leak to the pain-sensitive parts of the blood vessels, causing pain.
Also, when the brain’s blood vessels are contracting and relaxing, they can cause that cortical spreading depression across the surface of the brain to make you have a prodrome aura. You start seeing things across your field of vision. You might start feeling funny things in your hands or face.
It’s only when the serotonin starts to balance out that the migraine finally ends. The serotonin pathway is also the way that drugs like amitriptyline work as a preventative medication. But why pop more pills when chiropractic care is shown to work just as well and has longer-lasting effects?
Todd Lloyd, DC
Comparison Between Neck Pain Disability and Cervical Range of Motion in Patients With Episodic and Chronic Migraine: A Cross-Sectional Study
Carvalho, Gabriela F. et al.
Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics , Volume 37 , Issue 9 , 641 – 646