Mild headaches are common in the workplace and can be triggered by a number of factors, including eyestrain, stress and even dehydration. As such, they are often written off as an annoyance and a regrettable consequence of office life. Severe, chronic headaches, however, can cause more than just minor irritation – in certain cases they can put a worker out of commission for days at a time.
As a veteran chiropractor and researcher in spinal anatomy and clinical studies, Dr Roger Hinson, chair of integrative medicine at Beijing United Family Hospitals and Clinics (BJU), is well-versed in both the causes and treatment of headaches, including migraines.
“Migraines are by far the most painful of the common headaches,” Hinson said. “They are often accompanied by photophobia, nausea, and numbness or tingling sensations. Migraines are debilitating and can last from four hours to seven days.”
Migraines are three to four times more common in females than in males, with 18-20% of women expected to suffer from migraines this year, compared to 7% of men, according to Hinson.
Migraines not only take their toll on the individual sufferer, but also on the enterprises that employ them. They cost American businesses about US$13 billion per year due to missed work and impaired function, according to a study published by the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Of this total, US$8 billion was lost as a direct result of missed workdays. The National Headache Foundation estimates that 157 million workdays are lost annually in the US due to migraine-related symptoms.
Information related to sensations from the head and face is processed in the nucleus of the trigeminal nerve. Pharmaceutical and neurosurgical interventions aimed at migraines and other headaches target this nerve.
“In regards to headaches, the business end of this nerve, an area referred to as the subnucleus caudalis, is found in the top two centimeters or so of the spinal cord,” Hinson said. “Mechanical distortion of these trigeminal fibers in the upper cervical spine may predispose people to many types of headaches, including migraines.”
The spinal joints closest to the trigeminal caudalis are responsible for the movement of the head on the neck. They are the smallest, most mobile articulations of the spine. Due to their tiny size and extreme mobility, however, these joints are uniquely predisposed to displacement or misalignment. This misalignment can put mechanical stress on the upper spine where the trigeminal caudalis is located.
Furthermore, poor posture in the office can either cause or aggravate misalignments in the upper cervical spine, making office workers prime candidates for headaches.
“Office workers are predisposed to headaches,” Hinson said. “Slouching and sitting hunched over a computer can put stress on the upper cervical spine. It’s especially bad for habitual notebook computer users.”
While medical management of migraines involves blocking specific pain receptors in the trigeminal nerve, BJU approaches the problem from a mechanical perspective.
“We measure displacement of the upper cervical joints with X-rays, and then apply a very low force along a precalculated vector with an instrument to correct the misalignment,” Hinson said. “There is no neck twisting or ‘cracking’ noise. The patient feels only a light tap below the ear.”
The precision and minimal force involved in this type of chiropractic adjustment means the risks are significantly lower than with more forceful manipulative treatments. In fact, there have been no reports of serious side effects associated with this type of precision upper cervical adjustment since its development in the late 1940s, according to Hinson.
“Patients see side benefits instead of side risks,” he said.