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Headaches: Are they really just a pain in the neck?

Millions of people worldwide suffer from headaches. It is one of the most common ailments in the world. Often, headaches are described as an intense pressure in the head, like the brain itself is going to burst, but did you know that the brain itself cannot generate pain? In fact, all head pain must come from a cause outside of the brain.

While there are hundreds of types and classifications of headaches, it is estimated that 70% of all headaches come from the neck. The reasons for this are many, but let's briefly focus on two of them. The majority of nerves that carry sensation to and from the head actually start in the upper neck. This includes nerves to the face, jaw, eyes, the tissue that covers the brain and spinal cord called meninges, and the blood vessels in and around the brain. When these nerves get pinched or irritated, these nerves send pain signals to the brain.

Because of how these nerves overlap and converge, the brain may interpret these pain signals as coming from your head instead of your neck. This pain referral is similar to how a person’s right shoulder hurts when there is a gallbladder issue or why the left arm may hurt when there is an issue with your heart.

How do these nerves get pinched? It can be something major like a whiplash injury or a concussion that shifts the joints out of place. It can be something seemingly small like a stumble or even just long standing postural issues. However, once these nerves are pinched or irritated, inflammatory reactions occur and pain receptors start sending signals to the brain. It does not take much of a “pinch” to create this problem, in fact just the pressure of a dime on a spinal nerve will reduce that nerves transmission capacity by 60%, within 5 mins of it being pinched.

Secondly, major blood vessels going to and from the brain either pass right through the upper bones of the neck or run directly in front of them. Research has shown that these vessels themselves can get pinched or irritated by spinal misalignments, leading to blood flow alterations to the head. These alterations can most definitely create a headache or a migraine.

Chiropractic care has been shown in many studies to help reduce or eliminate headaches and migraines. Upper cervical chiropractic is a specialty within the chiropractic profession. Upper Cervical doctors, like the ones at Pierce Clinic, only specialize in the complex region that makes up the upper neck. This region is also the only place in the neck that can refer pain to the head. Because correcting misalignments in the upper neck is what we specialize in, Pierce Clinic has been helping people with debilitating and complex headaches and migraines for 55 years.

Dr. Jeremy Miller

D.C, M.S, Director of Doctors

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