Chronic Headaches and Migraines

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I am actually a bit extra passionate about headaches. In my first year of life, the mayor’s wife of the town I grew up in drove drunk into my parents’ car and knocked them into a ditch. Back then, she got away with that scot-free, with not even a smack on the wrist. My mother, on the other hand, banged her head into the window and that started migraines for the next 30 years. She tried every pain killer and migraine medication over the years, and while they did diminish a particular headache, they did not change the frequency or intensity of them. It was simply symptom management—nothing addressed the cause.

Certainly during and then after completing chiropractic school, helping my mother manage and then rid herself of headaches has been a great personal victory. I have helped easily hundreds with chronic headaches since, completely naturally and without side effects or the use of health-altering pharmaceuticals. How? By searching for the cause. There are so many reasons one might get severe headaches or migraines.

Structure. Our body’s musculoskeletal system is the most common reason we get headaches. In fact, even if the primary reason is not musculoskeletal, it is still always involved. From tight knots, to trigger points, to spasms, and even sprains and tears, there are many different changes that can occur in the muscles that may cause headaches. Most commonly these involve the suboccipital muscles at the base of the skull. Other muscles at the shoulders or the sides of the neck can also cause awful headaches, such as the scalene or levator scapulae muscles. Any muscle of the TMJ (temporomandibular joint) or jaw can cause excruciating headaches. The trapezius muscle also at the back of the neck is a common instigator of muscular headaches, and interestingly, it extends all the way to the low back, so it can send low back and pelvic imbalances upward to the head.

The bones may also shift slightly out of position, causing exquisitely painful headaches. The atlas (top bone of the spine) and axis (second bone to top of the spine) are the most notorious, as they not only attach to the suboccipital muscles previously mentioned, they surround the cranial nerves and blood vessels of the head. These can cause some of the more unusual symptoms involved more often with migraines, known as aura. Numbness, visual disturbances, smelling things that aren’t there, nausea are all examples of aura. Any malposition or subluxation of a cervical or even upper thoracic vertebrae can cause headaches directly. You might not realize it, but your first and second ribs make up the space on top of your shoulders between your neck and outer arm. These bones sometimes slip upward from anything as minor as coughing or sneezing to a trauma, like a fall or car accident. Most likely you may not even realize what happened or where it is coming from, just that you have a headache. A skeletal misalignment that can easily cause headaches is injury to the tailbone (sacrum or coccyx). The spinal cord attaches via ligament to our tailbone and any injury to this area, which can be physical trauma or actually emotional in nature, pulls on the spinal cord and causes very uncomfortable headaches. These are just a few of the physical reasons I look for when evaluating headaches. Let’s explore some of the nonphysical sources of our headaches.

There are several major reasons we can have headaches that are not musculoskeletal in nature, such as hormone imbalances, thyroid problems, digestive problems of any kind, poor circulation, kidney function, as well as liver troubles. These may be known problems or perhaps unknown. Sometimes medical tests are not always capable of finding these problems, as they might be subtle. We often help correct these imbalances naturally, and there are great methods to find them. These reasons compounded by the musculoskeletal are often why a visit to the massage therapist, chiropractor or acupuncturist alone is not enough. These problems in addition to the physical must be corrected at the same time to achieve true success.

Source: Dr. David Pollack, of Pollack Wellness Institute, located at 66 Commack Rd., Ste. 204, in Commack. For more information, call 631-462-0801 or visit

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