If you haven’t been offered an X-ray, then the answer to the question posed in the title of this article is probably “Yes.” 

If you’re not a sufferer of migraines, then the term “headache” itself might sound trivial to you. Unfortunately, those who do deal with them know all too well how serious they can be. Although generally not dangerous, a migraine can be extremely debilitating. More than 90% of those who suffer from them report being unable to function normally when symptoms are present. 

Your migraine can be a genuine impediment.

They can be scary, often including nausea, vomiting, extreme light and sound sensitivity, numbness, and disturbances in vision. There’s a headache-related emergency room visit about every ten seconds in the U.S., and it’s no wonder, considering that migraines affect roughly 14 percent of people over 18

Migraines are responsible for much more than just a bad day – they’re a serious public health concern, costing up to $36 billion annually in healthcare and lost productivity according to a study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain. Additionally, the Migraine Research Foundation estimates that families with a migraine sufferer face 70% greater healthcare costs than families without. 

But at least those people are getting help, right? Sadly, many of them are not…

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At least one source reports that “prolonged remission” from migraine headaches is common, and that after 15 years of suffering from migraines, about 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women no longer have them. 

Two things stand out regarding those statistics, however: firstly, that the patients in “remission” had already suffered from migraines for 15 years, and secondly, that 70% of men and 60% of women continue having migraines. 

What’s going on? Why aren’t they being treated? And what does all this have to do with which doctor you see? 

In fact, most of those people are being treated, typically by the use of pain medicine, whether prescribed or over-the-counter. Unfortunately, the medicines themselves have a tendency to lead to even more headaches in the long run. This even has a name: medication overuse headache (MOH). MOH is so common and problematic that it warrants its own research regarding prevention and treatment.

Why are so many doctors prescribing medicine if it just makes the problem worse?

In most cases, it’s because they don’t know what else to do. They may not be trained, for example, to perform the type of examination that could identify an underlying, physical cause of headaches.

And what most doctors almost certainly won’t do is offer you an X-ray. 

Why do I need an X-ray if I have migraines? 

Have you ever heard of cervicogenic headaches? 

They are broadly defined as pain in the head, the root cause of which is in the neck. However, the clinical presentation of these headaches is remarkably similar to that of migraines, causing some experts to note that they can be virtually impossible to distinguish from one another. 

Point being, in other words, that a case of seemingly untreatable chronic migraines might not be migraines at all but an entirely different type of headache. 

That brings us back to the simple diagnostic tool that can accurately determine whether a headache is cervicogenic or not: X-ray. Looking at an X-ray result, a well-trained doctor can definitively point out a ligament injury in the cranial cervical junction, or between the top two cervical vertebrae – two of the most common sources of cervicogenic pain. 

The beauty doesn’t just lie in the simplicity of the diagnosis, but in the potential outcome. If a ligament injury is diagnosed, in other words, it opens up a clear path to treatment – namely, spinal manipulation to take care of the displaced ligament. 

However, even when an X-ray and physical examination don’t reveal an obvious ligament injury or displacement, spinal manipulation is still recommended

Case in point:

The Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics published a report which concluded that common chiropractic interventions used in the treatment of both migraines and cervicogenic headaches are highly useful in improving patient outcomes. In reaching this conclusion, the report’s authors selected and reviewed 21 articles from controlled trials, randomized controlled trials, and systematic reviews. (Note: the authors could not make a recommendation for or against spinal manipulation in the case of tension or chronic tension headaches.)

Considering the extent to which headaches can debilitate and disable, successful treatment can mean a dramatic change in a person’s ability to thrive. 

Headaches are already one of the most common reasons patients seek chiropractic care. And although most researchers agree that large-scale, randomized trials still need to take place in order to determine the true efficacy of spinal manipulation therapy on patients with migraines, there’s a significant amount of evidence that it does. In the meantime, the bottom line seems to be this: 

If migraines or other severe headaches are negatively affecting your lifestyle and well-being, it could be time to consider seeing a doctor whose solution isn’t for you to take a medicine that might just cause you more headaches, and instead, make an appointment with someone trained to actually make a difference. 

Dr. Jeffrey Cronk Bio:
Dr. Jeffrey Cronk is a nationally recognized expert and thought leader on spinal ligament injuries, which are the number one cause of pain and disability worldwide. He is a contributor at GritDaily and Healthcare Innovation Group and is CEO of Spinal Kinetics, a National Medical Company that Provides CRMA (Computerized Radiographic Mensuration Analysis) to doctors that are testing for the severity and location of their patient’s spinal ligament injuries. Dr. Cronk also serves as CEO of Biocybernetics Inc, which provides education for doctors and lawyers in the spinal ligament injury space through Smart Injury Doctor and Smart Injury Lawyers.

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