Now, I’m not saying that all headaches are created equal, nor are they from the same source, but chances are if you’ve experienced a nagging headache is was probably caused by your neck!    I’d like to explain why some headaches occur so that you can prevent them.  As stated above, not all headaches are equal, nor are they all preventable; however, the majority of everyday headaches can be attributed to everyday causes.

First thing to discuss is why a headache occurs.  Unfortunately the scientific community has not come to a clear decision on this, despite years

If you look at a skeleton you’ll notice something odd; there is an area of the body where there are no supportive or protective bones.  I’m speaking, of course, about the abdominal region.  While the spinal vertebrae provide support along the back of this area the front is completely exposed; no ribs, no sternum.  So, how do our bodies manage to stay upright, day after day?  The answer is: muscles!  We use our abdominal muscles and our back muscles to stand up straight as well as to protect our many delicate internal organs situated within the abdominal cavity.

Of course, this odd structure gives us the ability to bend, lean, stretch, and fold at the waist and means, in the end, that we need these muscles to be strong, limber, and balanced.  It is the imbalance, in particular, of front vs. back muscles that can cause many of the painful spinal conditions that interfere with most people’s way of life, including low back pain and sciatica.  It is therefore incredibly important to strengthen and condition our abdominal muscles, as well as our back muscles.

In this article we will be outlining the different muscles that make up the front of the abdomen as well as their functions.  The second and third parts will be exercises designed to build muscle strength as well as stretches for muscle elasticity.

Muscular Structures

Rectus Abdominus:  This is more popularly known as the 6-pack muscle.  It runs down from your ribcage to the front of your pelvic bone.  This muscle’s function is to allow your body to crunch forward at the waist.

External Obliques:  These muscles start at the rib cage and end both at the pelvis and the linea alba (a line of cartilage that runs down the middle of the abdomen).  These muscles allow for the body to crunch forward at an angle or while twisting.

Internal Obliques:  These muscles also start at the rib cage and end both at the pelvis and the linea alba.  These muscles also allow the body to crunch forward at an angle or twist.  The internal obliques are set up perpendicularly to the external obliques and work in conjunction with them; When the left internal oblique contracts it does so with the right external oblique, as is the opposite.

Transverse Abdominus:  These muscles start along the ribs and the sides of the body and end at the pelvis and along the linea alba.  These muscles serve to hold in your internal organs and also act as a natural stabilizer for the spinal cord and pelvis.

As you can see, all four of these muscle groups are important in the movement and stabilization of the torso, as well as the vitally important task of assisting  breathing.  Now that we have outlined how important all of these muscles are, the next step in this process is to find out how to strengthen them.  For now, take the time to experiment: see if you can recognize which muscles you are using in every day life to move your torso side to side, to crunch forward, to crunch to the side.  This way,when you see the exercises available to strengthen these muscles you may already have a better knowledge of how they work.

Caution: Do not attempt to perform this stretch without consulting with your chiropractor or physician – if you have a serious injury this activity may cause further injury.

Where is it? : Your adductor muscles are located on the inner portion of your thighs that assist in pulling your legs in and across your body.  The adductor group is made up of four muscles: pectineus, adductor brevis, adductor longus, and adductor magnus.  All of these muscles attach the pelvic bone to the femur and allow for adduction, or the returning of a body part towards you body’s center line from the side, which is the opposite of abduction, or the movement of a limb away from your body’s center line to the side.

Why should I do it? :  If the adductor muscles become too tight they can pull the pelvic bone out of place, causing anything from low back pain to sciatica; there is also the risk of the muscles around the knee becoming affected by bone and muscle imbalance, causing painful movement in the knees.  Stretching these muscles can relieve some nerve impingement, pain, numbness and tingling, and even muscle fatigue.

How do I do it? :  There are several different ways to stretch the adductor muscles, each type of stretch depending on how flexible you are.

The easiest way to stretch the adductor muscle group is to sit on the floor facing a wall or couch.  Place the instep of each foot against the wall or couch and, while keeping your legs straight, slowly move your body forward while widening the gap between your feet.  If you are using a couch you may use the cushions to pull yourself forward.  Keep widening your stance until you feel a stretch along the inside of your thighs that feels uncomfortable without being painful.  Hold for at least 30 seconds.

The second type of stretch you can perform is commonly referred to as frog splits.  Placing your knees and hands on the ground in a crawling type position, slowly move your knees directly apart from each other to the side.  Keep the bottom half of your legs bent so they are parallel to each other.  Hold for at least 30 seconds.

The third type of stretch you can perform is the splits.  Place your feet in a triangular stance, then slide both feet directly away from each other until you feel a stretch along the inner part of your thighs.  For this particular type of stretch you need to make sure your feet are both pointing forward, as tilting them up on the heel will cause some stretching of the hamstrings rather than concentrating on the adductors.  It is also important to note that this stretch can be stressful on the shoulders from the strain of holding the positing against gravity, as well as difficult on the knees.  It is important to consult with your doctor before trying this stretch, as it can be detrimental for some.

Helpful hints :  Because there are three levels to this type of stretch it is important to start at the most basic level first to prevent injury.  While there is little chance of you hurting your legs during the couch or wall stretch, there is a much greater chance of hurting your back or knees during the other two stretches.  I therefore recommend beginning with the simplest step and working your way up, no matter how experienced you are at stretching.  I also recommend consulting a doctor specifically about performing this stretch to prevent said injuries.


With a new year upon us once again it is time to make New Year’s Resolutions – the bane of every January, thanks to the difficulty we all have in keeping said resolutions.  Since most resolutions come with the idea of health reform in mind I’d like to offer a few suggestions on how to plan, execute, and achieve your personal goals for 2012.

We should look at what types of goals can be relevant to you and your personal health.  Everyone needs to attack health at a different angle, but there are some general categories that apply to most of us.  First, there is the idea of weight loss.  While losing weight is an admirable goal it is not always the best indicator of health, since muscle mass weighs more than body fat.  That being said, weight loss is still a good goal to have if your body needs it.  Other good goals include losing body fat percentage, losing inches in the waist or hips, gaining flexibility, gaining strength, eating healthier, and reducing pain.  Of course, the best way to identify which goal is best for you is to contact your Chiropractor or health care professional.  Your doctor can help you identify the best way to improve your personal health based on a simple exam and some body tests.

Now, once you have determined the nature of your personal health goal the next step is making that goal something attainable for you.  A good goal can be achieved by applying the SMART goal system to your broad health ideals.  SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.  Each of these terms accounts for a factor in making a real goal for your personal health.  Here’s a breakdown example, using flexibility as the general goal:

Specific:  Make your goal have very specific result so that you can see your progress – if a goal is to vague it can be too difficult to achieve.  Instead of using “more flexibility” as a goal, make the goal “gaining flexibility in my hamstrings”.

Measurable:  If a goal has a start and finish line that can be tracked it is something that can be achieved.  For example, if you consult with your Chiropractor you can find the current degrees of flexibility you have in your hamstrings and make a goal based on that.  If your current flexibility is at, say, 45 degrees, then a good goal would be “gaining 45 degrees flexibility in my hamstrings for a total of 90 degrees”.  This goal can be easily measured as you make progress during regular checkups, and can also be something you yourself can track.

Attainable:  It’s important to be realistic when setting a goal for yourself, even if it’s not the total desired effect.  If you set a goal for yourself that is too difficult to achieve it will not be enjoyable working towards it and may derail your efforts.  If hamstring flexibility is the goal then setting a finish line within realistic limits will be easier to attain and therefore more satisfying.  For example, your long term goal for hamstring flexibility may be to touch your face to your knees, but setting the current goal at gaining 45 degrees is a more attainable goal to set for the start.

Relevant:  Setting a goal that is relevant to your life is incredibly important; without the relevancy there will be no urge for you to attain that goal!  Talking to your health care professional is one of the best tools you can employ to discover which health goals are relevant to you.  For example, if your Chiropractor suggests gaining muscle strength in your core will greatly improve your back health you would want to set your goals relating to core strength.  Hamstring flexibility is an important part of overall body health but may not be the best goal for you.  Make sure your goals are relevant to your body, rather than following the general health information available to the public!

Timely:  Putting a time limit on your goal means that you will both be able to measure your progress and you will have a reason to push yourself to reach that goal.  If your goal has no time limit your progress may meander without any solid movement forward, since you have all the time in the world to get to the finish line.  In the example of gaining flexibility, a timely goal would be “gaining 45 degrees flexibility in my hamstrings for a total of 90 degrees by July 1st, 2012”.  Setting a six month goal gives you time to work on the goal without losing focus or putting too much pressure on yourself.

Of course, the specifics, relevancy, and time constraints you set on your goal all depend on your health, personality, and lifestyle.  The goals that may work for you may be too difficult or too easy for someone else, and vice versa.  The most important thing is to set a goal for yourself – after all, with a goal you can make progress and feel good about the results!

Caution: Do not attempt to perform this stretch without consulting with your chiropractor or physician – if you have a serious injury this activity may cause further injury.


Where is it? :  Your hamstrings are actually a group of muscles that occupy the back part of the thigh, which are responsible for lifting the lower half of the leg up towards the body (flexion), as well as allowing for some rotation of the lower leg and moving the leg back (extension) .  The muscles are individually know as the semitendonosis, the semimembranosis, and the biceps femoris.  These three muscles attach at the top to the pelvic bone and at the bottom to the tibia (semitendonosis, semimembranosis) and the fibula (biceps femoris), which are the two structural bones in the lower leg.

Why should I do it? :  Since the hamstrings attach to the pelvis any muscle rigidity can cause numerous painful conditions, including Sciatica.  Stretching these muscles can relieve lower back pain, some types of knee pain, leg pain, numbness and tingling in the legs, and some leg muscle fatigue.

How do I do it? :  For this exercise you will need an object that you can grasp in both hands with a weight range of 3 to 10 lbs (anything will do – I use my son’s toy fire truck).  Stand with your feet pointing straight forward shoulder width apart.  Bend your knees just enough so they are not locked (this will assure the only muscles being stretched are the hamstrings instead of the calves) and keep your back straight.  Hold your weighted object in both hands against the  front of your body, allowing your arms to relax as much as possible.  Allow your body to slowly bend at the waist, using the weighted object to pull you down, until you have reached a point where you feel a pulling sensation in the back of your legs.  Make sure your back stays straight as you move, as bowing your back can cause muscle strains.  Count to ten while in this position, making sure to ease up if pain occurs.  After counting rise slowly into the original standing position, making sure to keep your back straight.  Repeat this process for a set of 10, doing at least 3 sets in a day.

Helpful Hints :  This stretch is designed for beginners in mind, especially those who do not have a great range of motion in their legs.  As you progress in this stretch you may increase the count from 10 to 15, as well as adding extra sets in a day.  This stretch is designed to be safe and slow, so progress may not show right away, but it should minimize the opportunities for pain.  When beginning stretching there will be discomfort, which can be misconstrued as pain; however, if you experience discomfort that does not diminish when you stand straight you may be pushing your stretch too far, and you should ease up on the distance you bend.

If you do sports, physical activities, or just plain walk around you should know what knee pain feels like.  Everyone has had at least a twinge of knee pain, be it from a sports injury or walking into the coffee table, and everyone knows how much it can hurt.  Since the knee is such an important joint (after all, if your knees don’t work it makes walking a much more daunting task) it is essential to keep its health up to scratch.  I have, therefore, compiled a few “Knee Health Rules” for all to share.


Knee Health Rule #1 – STRETCH

Stretching after a mild warmup can not only make muscles feel more pliable and limber, but it can also prevent injuries when performing more serious tasks or exercises.  However, when it comes to the knees (or for that matter, any joint) it’s important not to over stretch.  You should stretch for 30 to 60 seconds holding a pose (don’t bounce!!) only to the point of mild discomfort without pain.  Stretch each muscle group in turn – the quadriceps, the hamstrings, the calves, the abductors and adductors, the gluteus muscles, and the hip flexors.  If you don’t know how to stretch these muscle groups stay tuned for a step-by-step guide on how to stretch each of these muscle groups!


Knee Health Rule #2 – WATCH OUT!

Being aware of your body’s positioning is a GREAT way to make sure you don’t get injured, especially with your knees.  Since the average person is not aware of all parts of their body at once this is a much more difficult task than it sounds.  However, it is important to pay attention to having proper posture and positioning at all times.  For example, while performing any sport or activity it is best to have your feet pointed in the same direction as your knee before putting any type of weight or stress load on the rest of your body.  Make sure that if you need to turn quickly in one direction or another than your turn your hip joints or your feet on the ground rather than rotating at the knee joint.  Most of all, make sure you are aware of any person or object coming at your knees to prevent hyperextension (bending backwards) or side to side movement that may create a tear.


Knee Health Rule #3 – VITAMINS

The knee joints have within them a fluid-filled sac called the synovial membrane.  This membrane acts as a cushion between your bones, much as bubble wrap does between breakable items in a box.  To keep this cushion healthy it needs a few vital nutrients, all of which are easily attainable at any health food store.  The first two are glucosamine and chondrointin, which are usually sold together.  These supplements are known to prevent arthritis, as well as promote joint health.  The second vitamin is Omega-3 fatty acid, which can be found in flax seed and fish oil (yes, I know fish oil is disgusting, but if you live in San Diego county I urge you to come to our office in La Jolla to try the supplement we have.  It tastes like lemon meringue pie with no hint of fish!).  This oil helps to lubricate the joint as well as providing a natural anti-inflammatory to reduce any potential scar tissue buildup in the knee joint.


Knee Health Rule #4 – EXERCISE

It’s common knowledge at this point that you need exercise to stay healthy, and joint health is included.  Regular, well rounded aerobic exercise can keep the muscles surrounding and contributing to the knee joint can be kept strong and free of spasms.  Weight bearing exercise is also beneficial to the knee joint, as this type of movement encourages the production of synovial fluid (the lubricant inside the synovial membrane).  Common sense must prevail, however – if an exercise, such as running, is hurting your knee rather than promoting its health then switching to a lighter, lower weight bearing exercise is recommended (such as swimming or using an elliptical machine).


Knee Health Rule #5 – LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

Taking each of the former rules into consideration, this is the most important.  If you feel that your knee is getting uncomfortable with something you are doing get it checked out by a Chiropractor or Physical Therapist right away.  If there are issues leading to knee discomfort there are many ways alternative health practitioners can fix it, but only before it becomes a serious problem.  If you push your body to the point where you get a tear or rupture the prognosis is far more dire, the recovery time greater, and the pain worse.  The complexity of the knee  may take you to an Orthopedic Surgeon if you don’t listen to your body and correct your knee now.


While these rules do not apply to every case they can help those of you within the normal range of knee conditions to stay healthy and pain free.  Taking on all of these different rules can be daunting at first, but try implementing one per month to give yourself time to get used to each in turn.  Once you get used to caring for the health of your knees you should be able to live a long and happy life with your knees in good form – after all, the rules above can be applied to your whole body!

Everyone has heard the speech before: “stretch to prevent injury during exercise”.  However, no one seems to explain further how stretching can actually help your body stay healthy, or even that stretching can be harmful in some situations.

The most important issue to know about stretching is when NOT to do it.  The old adage of “stretch before you exercise” is a slight misconception, as it can actually cause injuries rather than prevent them if done improperly.  The only time muscles should be stretched is when they are warm; that is to say, when they have been properly warmed by either mild exercise (or moderate exercise if you don’t live in warm and sunny San Diego) or an outside heat source such as a hot tub, shower, or sauna.  Imagine, for a moment, that your muscles are like a towel soaked with water.  If that wet cloth is warmed up it becomes very flexible and stretchy, but put that same cloth in the freezer and it becomes stiff and brittle.  The same idea applies to your actual muscles – if you stretch “cold” muscles that are stiff and brittle you can cause damage to your muscles in the arena of muscle strains and micro-tears.  Strains and micro-tears can and usually do cause scar tissue buildup inside the muscle tissue, making the muscle sticky and, effectively,  less flexible.  Practically applied, this means that muscles should not be stretched before exercise; stretching should be done both after a moderate warm-up and after exercise is completed.

Now that the issue of when to stretch is covered, now we need to know why.  Stretching, in effect, lengthens the muscle tissue, giving it a greater range of motion.  As we have discussed in a previous article, muscles and bones have a symbiotic relationship and constantly affect one another, for better or worse.  If the muscles attached to the bones in your body are tight an strained they have the power to pull bones out of alignment to the point of partial or full dislocation.  Conversely, if the muscles attached to the bones in your body are loose and supple they can work in symphony without causing any disruption in the skeleton’s structure.  Since stretching can keep muscles loose and supple can prevent bone misalignment it can therefore prevent potential pain; misaligned bones can pinch nerves and cause further muscle discomfort.  For example, if your hamstring muscles are tight (which most people’s are) they can pull hard on your pelvic bone, causing it to shift downward, which in turn may cause the sciatic nerve to become impinged, causing the incredibly painful condition Sciatica.

All of the secondary effects aside, many people don’t know how painful tight muscles themselves can be, and how much stretching can help!  Despite the fact most medical doctors pass off muscle pain as an inconvenience it can actually be a serious, even debilitating experience.  Chronically tight muscles can also become weak and susceptible to intense muscle spasms due to over exhaustion.  In the end all of these conditions can be prevented with a daily stretching routine, focusing on your particular problem spots.  A Chiropractic consultation can help discover which muscles in your body are tight, as well as providing stretching outlines and instructions.  It is also important to note that not all muscle spasms can be stretched into health – sometimes further intervention is required to reduce inflammation and provide some muscle movement before stretching will help – and there are conditions where stretching is ill advised, such as with a disc bulge.  Again, a Chiropractic consultation can clear up the cause of any muscle pain experienced and determine if stretching is right for your condition.

Everyone’s heard the story – a friend of a friend got into a car accident and has now has to wear a neck brace for the next four weeks.  It sounds like a simple enough equation: totaled car=whiplash; however, that is not quite the case.  While serious car accidents do very often produce whiplash injuries they are by no means the only type.  Some people have been known to sustain whiplash injuries with as little as a 5mph change in speed, which in itself proves that even a minor fender bender can become a serious issue.

Now, I categorize whiplash as a serious issue for a reason.  It may seem counter-intuitive – after all, people whip their heads around all day long for hundreds of reasons and don’t get whiplash.  However, there is a difference in whipping your own neck around, versus having it moved forcibly from external forces.  The injuries that are experienced by a victim of whiplash are varied from mild to severe, but the constant discomfort and prolapse from normal daily life are very serious indeed.  Think about this – since a whiplash injury affects the neck it therefore affects how well the head and shoulders move; this means that all head and shoulder movement will be at least mildly affected by such a situation.  People use their head movements for eating, conversation and communication, working, exercise, and even relaxing and sleeping!  This means that every part of life will be affected by this type of injury.

As I stated above, whiplash injuries can occur during even minor fender benders.  Firstly, it doesn’t take much for the neck to bend (seeing as though it’s one of the most flexible parts of the body), plus it’s got the heavy weight of skull and brain to hold up.  That being said the Law of Inertia now comes into play (Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remail in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it); if you are sitting in a car that is struck from any angle your body will stay in the same position until it is moved by some piece of the car itself.  Most people sit in a car with their upper legs, rear end, and torso touching the actual seat while every other body part, including the head and neck, are hovering somewhere near a seat cushion without making contact.  This means that the head and neck are very susceptible to being pulled in one direction or another simply because the body is being pulled in different direction first.  Once the head and body are moving together, however, the same rule applies for a different reason.  If the car stops moving the lower half of the body will do so as well, being in contact with the car, but the upper half of the body will continue along the same route it was forced along by the initial crash force.  This means that the heavy head sitting on top of the flexible neck will likely travel further than any other part of the body, possibly beyond the realms of safe movement.

Newton’s first law isn’t the only thing at play here, though.  If it were we would not have to worry about minor fender benders, since the movement in such an accident is minimal.  However, there is Newton’s third law to think about – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  During a major car accident the outer shell and inner framework of the car is usually damaged; while this may seem like a bad thing it actually means that some of the force between the two cars is being absorbed into the metal as folds and tears rather than working its way up to the driver and passengers.  When there is no damage to the car it means no force was absorbed by the car itself, which in turn means that most of the crash’s force makes its way into the bodies of the driver and passengers.  Along with the fact that your body is going to absorb some of the opposite and equal force to a sudden movement, there is also the fact that you are not going to sit passively like a wet noodle.  A normal reaction is to tighten whatever muscles are available to prevent the body from being strained or hyperextended in any given direction.  While this is normal it is not always helpful; the body is providing an involuntary equal and opposite reaction to oppose the movement being forced upon it by the crash, which means that not only are muscles, tendons and ligaments being strained beyond their normal working length, but they are also being tightened at the same time, causing double the injury.  This idea is further heightened by the fact that many people are able to see a crash coming and therefore tighten their muscles in anticipation!

As you can now see, whiplash can come from almost all types of accidents, regardless of the direction, and can seriously affect everyday life after.  The most important thing to remember with a whiplash injury, however, is that the onset of pain can be slow.  No matter what the seriousness of the accident itself your body will release adrenaline, which helps to keep you alert, ready for action, and, unfortunately, from feeling any pain.  Once the adrenaline wears off any muscles that have been strained, sprained, bruised or torn will slowly start to react by building up heat, swelling, tension, and pain.  This, in turn, can spread to other muscles via proximity or by pulling nearby bones out of place, making the injury worse.  The key to beating this downward spiral is getting checked by a Chiropractor after every accident.  Countless times I have had people come in only after being told by their primary care physician that they have nothing wrong with them only to suffer through weeks of unnecessary pain.  Chiropractic exams are designed to discover and treat issues before they cause pain which, you must admit, sounds like a reasonable option after looking at the alternatives.

Ever injure your neck and, to your surprise, find you have a sore low back a few days later?  Or may be you’ve turned your ankle, only to find your knee and hip hurting later on.  The explanation is easy enough – all of the bones and muscles in your body are interconnected, and therefore apt to fall victim to a chain reaction once an injury is set in place.

First, basic anatomy has to be addressed before looking at how pain can travel through muscles in the body.  The basic structure of the body is made up of two things – muscles and bones.  Bones provide a rigid framework that protects internal organs and keeps us upright – after all, without bones we would be a mushy blob of muscles and organs, moving at the speed of a caterpillar.   Muscles allow for those bones to move in a multitude of different directions – without them our bodies couldn’t move at all!  Almost every muscle in the body connects to two different bones and cause movement by contracting or shortening its length.  This does not mean that all muscles work by bringing bones closer together, but that all muscles move bones in one direction or another.  For example, if you take your arm and lay it flat on a table, palm facing up, you can see that none of your muscles are engaged.  However, if you want to move your forearm closer to your upper arm you have to shorten your bicep muscle (in the front of your arm), which pulls the bones in your forearm up in the air.  If you wish to press your forearm into the table, moving it away from your upper arm you have to shorten your tricep muscle (in the back of your arm), which pushes the bones in your forearm into the table top.  There are even small muscles responsible for rolling your forearm and hand from side to side!

The most important part to understand about muscles movement is the fact that muscles have to be attached to two different bones to cause movement.  Think about this:  if a farmer was attempting to pull a bucket full of water out of a well he would need to attach a rope to both the bucket and his hands to make a difference.  If he tied both ends of the rope to the bucket it wouldn’t move, nor would it move if he were holding both ends in your hand.  Muscles work the same – a muscle (the rope) must be attached to a origin point (the farmer) and an ending or “insertion” point (the bucket).

Now that we know muscles must attach to two different bones it must be said that every bone in the body has multiple muscles attached to it!  Since bones need to move up, down, forward, backward, and around there must be muscles to provide this movement for EVERY bone that can perform these feats.  Not all bones can move in every direction – ever tried twisting a finger around? – but all bones have at least SOME movement.  If we look at the forearm again we can see that the bones within, called the radius and ulna, have muscles attached to it that can lift the forearm, straighten the forearm, twist the forearm, extend the hand (pressing the top of the hand back), flex the hand (pressing the palm of the hand down), twist the hand, and even flex and extend the fingers!

All of these different muscles, with different origins and insertions, can be a complicated network within the body.  Imagine now that one of these muscles is injured and has gone into a phase of inflammation and constant tightness, better known as a muscle spasm.  In this state an injured muscle with be constantly pulling on the two bones it connects with, causing any ligaments, joints or muscles between them to experience undue pressure and strain.  Eventually this increased strain will cause one or both of the bones to shift slightly to relieve the pressure.  When this shift happens all of the muscles attached to the shifted bones will now experience their own strain and irritation, having been moved out of their normal place.   As you can see, these types of muscle strains and bone shifts (called subluxations) can cause a chain reaction throughout the body in ways you may never expect.

Not all is lost, however, since there are professionals that do expect these things to happen.  Chiropractors, Massage Therapists, Orthopedic Surgeons, and Physical Therapists are all professionals that can predict these types of reactions in the body.  Our job is to correct muscle spasms and subluxations before a domino effect happens.  The only way we can do this, however, is if you come in to see us when you feel something “off” in your body, or if you’ve had an injury.  Even though receiving treatments for what may seem like a relatively simple discomfort may seem trivial and wasteful you may actually be preventing the spread of painful muscle spasms throughout your own body.  After all, now you know Dem Dry Bones was right, and the thigh bone really IS connected to the hip bone!

Now, I’m not saying that all headaches are created equal, nor are they from the same source, but chances are if you’ve experienced a nagging headache is was probably caused by your neck!    I’d like to explain why some headaches occur so that you can prevent them.  As stated above, not all headaches are equal, nor are they all preventable; however, the majority of everyday headaches can be attributed to everyday causes.

First thing to discuss is why a headache occurs.  Unfortunately, the scientific community has not come to a clear decision on this, despite years of study.  The general consensus, however, is that blood flow to the structures around the brain is chiefly responsible for head pain.  The brain itself cannot feel pain, as it does not have any sensory receptors (nerves that interpret pain), but the thin layers of protective tissue surrounding the brain can.  These layers, called the meninges (ever heard of Meningitis?  It’s the inflammation of those layers) contain the blood vessels that feed the brain.  It is thought that the increase or decrease in regular blood flow to these layers causes primary headaches, such as migraines and cluster headaches.  There is also the pain of a secondary headache, which comes from a source outside the skull cavity, such as muscle tension in the head or jaw or sinus inflammation.

The second thing to consider with headaches is how they happen.  Since, as stated before, the scientific community has not yet agreed on the exact way a headache occurs there is no way for me to cover it here.  However, there is the concept of how blood flow to the meninges in the skull can change, as well as how tension in the musculature of the head can occur.  Both of these situations commonly arise from pinched nerves, inflamed muscles, and dislocated vertebrae in the neck!  The blood supply for the brain is carried up through the Carotid Artery, while the “dirty” blood already used by the brain is drained away by the Jugular Vein, both of which run through the neck.  Since the neck is rather small in comparison to many other parts of the body important structures (such as the spinal cord, blood supply for the brain, and airways) are crammed together in close proximity, allowing for unintended involvement.  If a vertebrae is pulled out of place by a painful neck muscle the resultant movement can cause a blood vessel to become occluded; if the Carotid is pressed it may reduce blood flow to the brain, while pressure on the Jugular may result in a slight backlog of used blood being removed from the brain.  Since scientists have agreed that blood flow is a factor in many primary headaches it follows that the origin point of blood flow to the brain must be kept structurally sound in order to reduce the chance of pain.  On top of a potential blood flow issue, misaligned bones can cause a chain reaction of spasmed muscles, allowing pain in the neck to transform into inflammation and irritation of the skull muscles.

The last thing you need to know, if you are suffering from headaches of any sort, are preventative measures.  Here are a few things everyone can do to keep headaches at bay:

– Drink plenty of water (water keeps blood flow smooth and muscles more relaxed)

– Keep good posture (poor posture allows for misaligned vertebrae and muscle inflammation)

– Get treatment RIGHT AWAY if you’ve been in any type of accident, even if you don’t feel pain immediately (automobile crash, slip and fall, sports injury, etc)

– Keep your stress levels down (stress can change blood flow and cause irritated and strained muscles)

Of course, there are plenty of other things you can do to prevent headaches, such as seeing a Chiropractor when you feel pain in your neck or head, getting regularly scheduled treatments to prevent migraines, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and even having your eyes checked regularly to prevent inflammation in the eye muscles from squinting!  As difficult as it may seem, all of these steps have to be integrated into your life at your own pace and of your own free will.  However much of a pain in the neck it may seem it must be said that following a few steps to a headache free life is worth it!