Migraines are a very common health complaint for millions of Americans. For those who suffer from chronic headaches, any cure that can offer some relief is greatly appreciated. Many turn to alternative remedies such as going to see a chiropractor. But now a research team at the Peninsula Medical School in the UK says that chiropractic treatment does not demonstrate more good than harm when it comes to treating migraine pain.
Chiropractic treatments attempt to properly align the vertebrae. By using spinal manipulation, chiropractors are said to release tension and open pathways in the body where pain has centered.
For their study, the British research team reviewed trials in which patients with a particular type of headache — known as “cervicogenic headache,” caused by neck strain — had spinal manipulation. The researchers found nine trials that met their search criteria. Of those nine trials, six suggested that spinal manipulation was better at reducing pain than other treatments — physical therapy, massage, medication, or no treatment — while three suggested that spinal manipulation was no better than the alternatives.
You might question this interpretation, given that the majority of the studies favored spinal manipulation. The authors argued, however, that there is not enough evidence to prove that spinal manipulation is an effective treatment for headaches. They said that the only study in the review that compared spinal manipulation to a sham treatment found that the technique was no more effective than the sham treatment.
Why are the study authors seemingly opposed to spinal manipulation despite moderately positive results? They say they are concerned about the potential complications associated with spinal manipulation. They cite a 1996 study that found that the rate of severe complications — including strokes — was just three for every two million neck manipulations. However, in another study, they found more than 700 unreported severe complications, suggesting that the rate is potentially much higher.
The researchers say it is better to err on the safe side if there is a problem with using spinal manipulation. However, other experts point out that adverse events are quite rare and that spinal manipulation may not be the cause of the strokes, noting that the rate is no higher than in the general population.
The debate will no doubt continue. The practice of spinal manipulation is often heavily scrutinized by those who wish to see it discounted as a safe and effective alternative cure. Educating yourself about chiropractors and chiropractic treatments can help you make your own decisions about whether the treatment could be beneficial to you. You can always ask for your doctor’s advice, too.