Migraine Headaches and Nutrition Approaches

People with migraines know all too well about that throbbing, pulsating, and nauseated feeling that accompanies their headaches and the associated disability that often results. The underlying cause of migraine headaches is still not well understood, but genetics (family history), chemical imbalances in the brain (serotonin, in particular), environmental factors (weather, allergens), and hormonal changes appear to play a part. Because medications to manage headaches can come with potentially serious side effects, especially with prolonged use, many patients opt for non-pharmaceutical treatment approaches to reduce the frequency and intensity of their migraines…

A 2018 survey of 4,356 American adults with a history of migraines found that common symptoms associated with migraines include sensitivity to touch (32%), food cravings (28%), and hallucinations (18%), which include sound and smell. The most common foods to trigger a migraine were chocolate at 75%, cheese (especially aged cheeses) at 48%, citrus fruit at 30%, and alcohol (especially red wine) at 25%. Other foods that may be triggers include cured meats, monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame (and other artificial sweeteners), snack foods, fatty foods, dairy products, food dyes, coffee, tea, cola, and nuts.

According to a 2019 study, people who suffer from migraines are often deficient in magnesium (Mg), a mineral naturally found in spinach, nuts, and whole grains. Magnesium is also important in regulating blood pressure, blood sugar (glucose), and muscle and nerve function. A meta-review of previous study findings revealed that migraine patients who received a Mg supplement reported reductions in both headache frequency and intensity. Other benefits included a decrease in hospitalization during pregnancy, and at a higher dose, a lower incidence of type-2 diabetes and stroke!

Another nutritional anti-migraine option includes the use of fever few (Tanacetum parthenium) for both prevention and treatment of migraine headaches. Other benefits of fever few include fever reduction, irregular menstrual cycles, arthritis, psoriasis, allergies, asthma, tinnitus, dizziness, and nausea/vomiting. There is also research support for the use of riboflavin (vitamin B-2), melatonin and coenzyme Q10 by migraine patients.

Doctors of chiropractic often manage their migraine headache patients using a multi-modal approach that includes cervical spinal manipulation and mobilization, physical therapy modalities, home exercise training, nutritional counseling (including supplementation advice), and other conservative treatment approaches based on the patient’s specific needs.

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Two GREAT Treatment Options for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) has long been recognized as an occupational disease, and though the incidence of many other occupational diseases has decreased over time, CTS appears to be becoming more prevalent.

A 2019 study looked at the impact/benefit of wrist-specific exercises and oral enzyme therapy on automotive assembly line workers with CTS (excluding those treated previously or who had a positive history of hormone replacement or current pregnancy, inflammatory joint disease, trauma to the affected hand, polyneuropathy, other relevant conditions). 

Participants in the exercise group performed the following exercises at home for nine weeks:

  • Deep “push & pull”: Massage the palm-side of the wrist using the thumb from the opposite hand for 30 seconds.
  • “Prayer Position”: Place the palms together in front of your chest; press the fingers slowly against each other for five seconds and release for five seconds; press the palms together and then slowly lower the hands toward the floor. Repeat as tolerated, gradually increasing reps.
  • Neuromobilization: Stand sideways to a wall; place the palm of the left hand on the wall, fingers pointing back to a “10 o’clock” position. Start with the elbow bent and slowly straighten it while bending the head sideways toward the wall (left). Slowly bend the elbow and bend the neck/head to the right. Repeat six to eight times with each hand.


The enzyme group took oral enzymes (which are known for their anti-inflammatory, anti-edematous, and analgesic effects) that included 2,000 mg pancreatin, 900 mg bromelain, 1,200 mg papain, 480 mg trypsin, 20 mg chymotrypsin, 200 mg amylase, 200 mg lipase, and 1,000 mg of rutin for nine weeks divided into two doses a day. 

Compared with a third group that continued their usual activities, participants in both the enzyme and exercise groups reported improvements with their CTS symptoms. Nerve conduction velocity tests also revealed improved function in the median nerve. 

Doctors of chiropractic commonly utilize a multi-modal approach when treating CTS, which often include manual therapies, nutritional recommendations, exercises, activity/modifications, and overnight wrist splinting.

White Rice or Brown Rice or No Rice at All

In today’s world, consumers are inundated with contradicting news about foods that are good for them and foods that can be detrimental to their health. Rice is one such food. Is it good for you? Is it bad? Let’s find out… 

In a 2019 study, researchers in India randomly assigned 169 overweight adults (aged 25-65 years) to consume meals that included white or brown rice twice a day, six days a week for three months. The research team used blood testing to measure glucose, insulin, HbA1c, insulin resistance, lipids, and inflammation. The results showed that those who consumed white rice had test results that suggested a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, while those who ate brown rice had blood test results that indicated less inflammation and a reduced diabetes risk. 

In 2012 and 2014, Consumer Reports raised concern about the arsenic levels in US rice. In order to determine if rice consumption is associated with an increased risk for cancer, researchers evaluated data from several long-term databases that included dietary and health information involving 45,231 men and 160,408 women who were cancer-free at the start of the study and tested every four years for 26 years. 

Overall, the data show that 10,833 men (23.9% of men) and 20,822 women (12.9% of women) developed cancer. Comparing participants who ate <1 serving of rice per week vs. those who ate ≥5 rice servings per week, there was NO significant difference or associations between those who did vs. those who did not get cancer, regardless of the type of rice, cancer type, BMI, smoking status, or ethnic background. Additionally, rice consumption was not associated with cardiovascular disease, which is another leading cause of death in the developed world.

Another interesting study reported that cooking brown rice under high water pressure increased the water absorbency of brown rice without nutrient loss.  

Other studies have found that fermented brown rice and rice bran appears to reduce the risk of cancers of the colon, liver, stomach, bladder, esophagus, and lung. In animal models, fermented brown rice/rice bran was also observed to reduce tumor size, though this finding has yet to be confirmed in human subjects.

Doctors of chiropractic often encourage patients to live a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating more of the foods that are good for us and less of the foods that are not. So far, the science suggests that eating white rice in moderation may not hurt you and consuming brown rice may offer some additional benefits.

Neck-Specific Exercise for Headaches & Neck Pain

As screens (televisions, computers, and smartphones/tablets) become an increasingly important part of daily life, many people gradually take on a more slumped posture, which can place added strain on the neck and shoulders, raising the risk for neck pain and headaches. Luckily, it’s possible to improve forward head posture, rounded shoulder posture, and scapular instability with neck-specific exercises and chiropractic care. 

In a 2018 study, patients with forward head posture performed either scapular stabilization or neck stabilization exercises for 30 minutes three times a week for four weeks. Participants in both groups experienced improvements related to their craniocervical angle and muscle activity around the upper back and neck, with greater results reported by the scapular stabilization group.  

Several studies have shown similar results for improving forward head posture using both scapular and neck stabilization exercises. In another study, high schoolers with forward head posture performed scapular and neck stabilization exercises and exhibited good posture up to four months later.

A 2019 study looked at the effect of a six-week intervention featuring manual therapy and/or stabilizing exercises on 60 women with neck pain and forward head posture. Participants in both the manual therapy/stabilization exercise-combo group and the stabilization exercises-only group reported better outcomes with respect to head posture, pain reduction, and improved function, but the results were best in the combined treatment group. The authors concluded that manual therapy adds a meaningful role to a structured exercise program that addresses scapular and neck instability and forward head and rounded shoulder posture. 

Doctors of chiropractic often incorporate exercise training in their treatment recommendations, especially when postural issues may contribute to the patient’s symptoms, like neck pain and headaches.

Chiropractic Methods for Treating Neck Pain

When it comes to neck pain, many patients seek out chiropractic care. In fact, there are several studies demonstrating that manual therapies performed by doctors of chiropractic can offer significant benefits for non-specific or mechanical neck pain as well as neck pain arising from injuries related to sports, car accidents, and falls. What are some of these manual therapies?

Spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) involves moving the head and neck to a firm end-range of movement followed by a fast, thrust aimed at specific joints that are fixed, subluxated (partially out of position), and tender. The thrust is described as a “high-velocity, low amplitude” (HVLA) movement, and it’s also called “an adjustment”, which is more unique to the chiropractic profession. Joint cavitation (the “cracking” sound) often occurs as gas (nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide) either forms within or is released from the joint.  

Spinal mobilization (SM) is a low-velocity, low amplitude movement that is typically slow and rhythmic, gradually increasing the depth of a back-and-forth movement, often combined with manual traction. Here, joint cavitation is less common. 

Exercise training that focuses on strengthening the deep neck flexor muscles and other exercises that are specifically designed for each individual patient based on their specific needs can result in better treatment outcomes compared to a generalized, non-specific exercise program. Studies in which SMT/SM and exercise are combined report better long-term outcomes than SMT/SM alone, but SMT/SM typically out-performs exercise therapy alone.

Physical therapy modalities (PTM) can include ultrasound, interferential, low and high volt, galvanic current, diathermy, lasers (class 3B and IV primarily), ultraviolet, ionto- and phono- phoresis, pulsed electro-magnetic field, hot/cold, and more.

Muscle release techniques (MRTs) include massage therapy, myofascial release, trigger point therapy, muscle energy techniques, active release therapy, gua sha, and many more.

Cervical traction devices can be used either in the office or at home, depending on the patient’s needs; however, it’s common for both approaches to be used. The obvious benefits of home traction include the ability to repeat its use multiple times a day, and it’s generally more cost effective. Types include static traction that can be applied sitting or supine (on the back) and intermittent traction, which is typically performed supine and is computerized, and hence, is often limited to in-office use only.

Which approaches are used in the course of care depend on the preference of the patient as well as the treating chiropractor. It’s important to discuss your preferences with your chiropractor when seeking care.

Headaches / Neck Pain: Let’s Have Some Pillow Talk!

Individuals with neck pain may find it difficult for get a night of restful, restorative sleep due to pain keeping them awake or interrupting their slumber. Not only can a restless night make it more difficult to complete tasks related to everyday living or make neck pain worse, but poor sleep habits over time can raise one’s risk for chronic disease and even early death—perhaps as much as physical inactivity or a bad diet. When treating a patient with neck pain, doctors of chiropractic often inquire about the patient’s sleeping position and pillow, as addressing these factors may be important for getting a good night’s rest.

When it comes to a “good” position for the head while sleeping, most experts would recommend assuming a position that most closely mimics a good upright posture. If lying on the back, the head should not be forced toward the chest (hyper-flexed) or dropped too far backward into hyper-extension. When lying on the side, the head should not be forced upward or downward, away from the neutral position. If you habitually sleep on your stomach—which is generally NOT a good position for the neck due to the prolonged static rotation—you may want to consider a very thin pillow (or not using a pillow) to not force the neck too far up or down when rotated. Placing a body-pillow between the knees that extends up in front of the pelvis and chest can function as a “kick-stand” to keep you from rolling onto your stomach during the night.

What about pillow materials?  There are many to choose from, such as feathers, foam (memory and others), water, buckwheat, and/or combinations of these. While there is probably not a “best” choice, there are characteristic differences that are worth discussing. For example, memory foam molds nicely to the contours of the head and neck but can be hot and may have an unpleasant odor. Latex foam has the advantage of molding well to contours without becoming hot and comes in various densities to suit preferences, which can be quite helpful for those with neck pain and headaches. Generally, higher density foam offers less breakdown and more support. Latex is also resistant to mold and dust mites, another distinct advantage. Feathers and down pillows can mold to fit the body contours nicely but have a tendency to lose that initial position as the feathers often spread out while sleeping. Some people are also bothered by allergies or skin sensitivities making feather pillows and certain types of foam undesirable. Buckwheat hulls tend to mold well and be cool but then can be noisy when moving. Mattress firmness should also be taken into consideration, as the amount of “sinking in” will affect the pillow thickness decision. 

If musculoskeletal pain is interfering with your sleep, consult with your doctor of chiropractic to help determine the best position and pillow for your individual case. Your chiropractor may also offer nutritional recommendations with the aim of improving sleep quality.

How Does Chiropractic Stack Up for Low Back Pain?

Doctors of chiropractic offer a non-surgical, treatment protocol for both acute and chronic low back pain (LBP), as do several other healthcare delivery systems. However, due to patient preference and a rising concern for potentially harmful side-effects, many LBP patients seek management strategies that offer a natural, non-pharmaceutical approach, of which chiropractic is the most commonly sought after practitioner-type. So what evidence is there regarding the benefits of chiropractic vs. other forms of care in managing LBP and its associated pain-related functional loss? 

A 2018 study published in the online Journal of the American Medical Association focused directly on this question by comparing patient outcomes of those receiving usual medical care to a second group of patients that also received chiropractic care.

Data was collected at three sites—two large military medical centers and one smaller hospital at a military training site—over the 3.5-year time period. Eligible participants included active duty United States service members between 18 and 50 years in age who were diagnosed with mechanical low back pain. 

Patients in each group received usual medical care for six weeks that included self-care, medications, physical therapy, and pain clinic referral. Participants in one group also received chiropractic care that included spinal manipulative therapy in the low back and adjacent regions and additional therapeutic procedures such as rehabilitative exercise, cryotherapy, superficial heat, and other manual therapies. 

Up to six weeks after the conclusion of care, the researchers reported that patients in the  chiropractic group scored higher with respect to LBP intensity, disability, perceived improvement, satisfaction, and medication use. The researchers concluded that this trial clearly shows the need for chiropractic care for those suffering from LBP—reminding the reader that current LBP guidelines have embraced chiropractic care as a FIRST line of treatment for LBP.

This is not the first study to show the benefits of chiropractic care, as prior high-quality studies have reported higher patient satisfaction levels, less medication use, higher quality of life scores, and less LBP-related disability and recurrence rates for patients receiving chiropractic treatment vs. usual medical care. This article was published in a highly regarded medical journal (JAMA) and CLEARLY supports the need for chiropractic care in the management of LBP.