Cervicogenic headache (CGH) refers to headaches caused by dysfunction in the neck, and experts estimate that 18% of chronic headache patients have cervicogenic headaches. Spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) is a form of treatment most commonly provided by doctors of chiropractic, and several studies have demonstrated that SMT is highly effective for patients suffering musculoskeletal disorders of the neck, including those with cervicogenic headaches. However, there remains little consensus on the appropriate number of SMT treatments to achieve maximum benefits for CGH.
In a 2018 study, a team of researchers conducted a large-scale study involving 256 chronic CGH patients to determine how many treatments are needed to achieve optimum results using SMT for CGH. The investigators randomly assigned participants to one of four dose levels (0, 6, 12, or 18 visits) of SMT for six weeks. The type of SMT consisted of a manual high-velocity, low-amplitude (HVLA) thrust manipulation in the cervical and upper thoracic regions. The location of the spinal adjustment was determined by a brief, standard spinal palpatory examination from the occiput to T3 to assess for pain and restricted motion. For older patients and/or those in acute pain, the manual therapy was modified to a low-velocity, low-amplitude mobilization. To control for visit consistency and provider attention, patients continued to receive a light massage treatment once a patient’s assigned number of visits was satisfied, until the six-week treatment period ended.
After the conclusion of the treatment phase of the study, the participants used a headache diary to keep track of their headaches for the next year. The results showed that the patients who received the most SMT treatments had fewer headaches over the following twelve months. More specifically, the researchers calculated that six additional SMT visits resulted in about twelve fewer days with headaches over the next year.
If you suffer from headaches, consider consulting with a doctor of chiropractic to determine if cervical dysfunction is a potential cause or contributing factor and whether you are a candidate for spinal manipulative therapy.