Evidence on the effectiveness of chiropractic for migraine headaches is limited. However, some studies suggest it may be as effective as some preventive medications.

According to older research from 2011, there may be some benefits in having chiropractic treatment to prevent migraine headaches. Chiropractic is an alternative, complementary medicine that treats conditions affecting the bones, muscles, nerves, ligaments, and tendons.

People may seek a chiropractor for migraine because they often have associated symptoms, such as neck pain and stiffness, which chiropractors commonly treat. According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), treatment may involve spinal manipulation and soft tissue therapies, along with lifestyle advice on nutrition, exercise, and posture.

The Migraine Research Foundation state that 39 million people in the United States experience migraine headaches. It is most common in individuals aged 18–44 years.

Keep reading to learn more about using chiropractic for migraine, how it works, and its safety and effectiveness during pregnancy.

Chiropractor working on a person with a migraine. Share on Pinterest
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Migraine has no cure, and many medications that doctors prescribe for migraine come with significant side effects. For this reason, individuals often opt for alternative or complementary therapies, such as chiropractic.

While the symptoms of migraine headaches vary, more than 75% of people with the condition experience associated neck pain. Many of them also report muscle tension, neck stiffness, and problems with jaw function.

Doctors typically prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and physical therapy to treat these associated symptoms. However, these treatments do not fully address the problems underlying the symptoms. A chiropractor’s expertise includes treating these symptoms and often relieves the underlying problems.

Evidence on the safety and effectiveness of chiropractic treatment for migraine headaches is limited but encouraging. An older 2011 review assessed clinical trials on the effects of chiropractic spinal manipulation, massage therapy, and physical therapy for migraine headaches.

Results suggest each of the therapies may be as effective as conventional preventive medications, such as propranolol (Inderal) and topiramate (Topamax). However, the review highlighted shortcomings in the clinical trials, leading the authors to call for further studies, following strict clinical guidelines.

Despite limited research on chiropractic for migraine headaches, treating the condition comprises a substantial percentage of the caseload of practitioners.

A 2017 survey questioned 1,869 chiropractors to determine the prevalence of migraine treatment and management. The results showed 53% had a caseload that was high in individuals with migraine headaches.

To treat migraine headaches, chiropractors perform spinal adjustments or manipulation to reduce stress and improve spinal function. Treatment also includes soft tissue therapies, which may involve:

  • massage, which includes kneading of joints and muscles
  • myofascial release massage aimed at the membranes that connect and support muscles
  • trigger point therapies that target tense areas within muscles

According to the ACA, chiropractic for migraine headaches also offers lifestyle management suggestions, such as:

  • making dietary changes and taking B complex vitamins
  • avoiding heavy exercise and encouraging walking and low impact aerobics
  • advising on posture, such as sitting correctly at work

In addition, chiropractic may include other lifestyle recommendations that can help prevent migraine headaches. Examples include advice about teeth clenching, which can stress the jaw joint and trigger headaches, and encouraging people to drink plenty of water each day to prevent dehydration, which is another headache trigger.

A chiropractor’s aim when treating migraines is to reduce pain and maximize neuromusculoskeletal health. Experts are unclear how the treatment helps but think it is likely due to its multifaceted approach. For instance, reducing muscle tension may lessen overall musculoskeletal pain.

Some experts have concerns that side effects from preventive medications can affect the health of a pregnant person and the developing fetus.

As such, a person who is pregnant might consider pursuing complementary therapy, such as chiropractic.

There is little research on the use of chiropractic for migraine during pregnancy. However, an older 2009 case study suggests it may be safe and effective.

The study involved a 24-year-old female who was pregnant and had experienced chronic migraine headaches for 12 years. Her previous unsuccessful treatments included massage therapy, physical therapy, and another type of complementary therapy. She also took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs with codeine, but this only provided minor temporary relief.

After spinal manipulation treatment of chiropractic and add-on therapies, her symptoms improved, and she became independent from medication. More research is necessary, but the case study suggests chiropractic may be safe and effective for treating migraine headaches in pregnancy.

People often consult a chiropractor to treat migraine because they get relief from the condition but do not experience the side effects they may get from medication.

Studies are limited, but earlier research indicates that chiropractic may help treat migraine headaches.

Even fewer studies have examined the use of chiropractic treatment for migraine headaches during pregnancy, but one case study suggests it is effective and safe.