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Chiropractic Care for Headaches

Woman receiving massage therapy from a chiropractor in Beaverton, Oregon

Over the past month we’ve been posting about chiropractic care for headaches on our social media outlets. This will serve as a summary for all of that information plus I will delve a bit deeper into some of the details.

So what can a chiropractor in Beaverton, Oregon do for headaches? We can offer a solution that is sustainable, longer lasting and less toxic than the pills most people take to relieve their headache pain. Of course there are many types of headaches and many different causes for those headaches. In this article I’m going to cover how we find and treat tension-type headaches because they are the most common headaches as well as cervicogenic headaches because they are very much caused by mechanical dysfunction in the joint of the neck, and chiropractic adjustments are a mechanical solution for mechanical problems. First I’ll go over what each of these headaches looks like in terms of symptoms, what we find on examination in the office, techniques you can use to help treat them yourself, and techniques we use to treat them in the office.

I want to first start by describing headache symptoms that suggest something serious is going on for which you should seek immediate medical care. Keep an eye out for the following and get evaluated by a physician in these circumstances: headaches that are becoming progressively worse over time, sudden onset severe headaches, new and unfamiliar headache, headache following recent head injury, presence of fever, significant neck stiffness, rash, rigid neck, facial numbness or tingling, vertigo, double vision, passing out, difficulty speaking, difficulty swallowing, difficulty walking, nausea, extremity numbness.

If you come to our chiropractic office in Beaverton you will be evaluated for all of those symptoms above with a thorough medical history and examination. During that exam we may find symptoms and signs that suggest your headache may be either a tenstion-type headache or a cervicogenic (coming from the neck) headache. Here are signs that you might have a tension-type headache.

  • Pain on both sides of your head
  • Pressing or tightening quality (not pulsating)
  • Mild to moderate intensity
  • Routine physical activity does not make it worse (walking, going up stairs, etc.
  • No nausea/vomiting
  • Usually not sensitive to both light or sound (but sometimes one of those)

Here is a list of what we might find on your chiropractic examination and/or history if you have a tension-type headache:

  • Tight, tender muscles in the head, neck and shoulders/upper back
  • Postural stress
  • Emotional stress
  • Sleep problems
  • Dehydration
  • Inflammation

The second type of headache we’re covering here is called a cervicogenic headache. That’s just fancy language for headaches caused by something in the neck. Here is what these headaches look like:

  • Typically just on one side of your head
  • Starts in your neck, spreads to the back, side or front of your head and around the eye

On history and examination, the following clues will tell us your headaches are likely coming from your neck:

  • Neck pain
  • Stiff neck (limited mobility, hard to check your blindspot)
  • Painful knots in muscles around your neck and head
  • Previous concussion
  • Previous whiplash/motor vehicle collision
  • Weakness in certain neck muscles
  • Chest breathing instead of belly breathing

If you come to see your chiropractor in Beaverton, OR for headache treatment and you look to be a good candidate for chiropractic care based on the findings listed above, we’ll start you on what we call a Trial of Care. There are two things to note here. First of all, a trial of care means 4-8 visits over the course of 2-4 weeks. We will NOT ask you to commit to a care plan that lasts several months and require you to pay up front. Not everybody responds to chiropractic care the same way in the same time frame. We start with a trial of care and if we don’t see significant improvement in that time span, then we know we’re on the wrong track. Secondly, chiropractic care is an all-inclusive term. Chiropractors don’t just manipulate/adjust the spine. A chiropractic treatment plan for headaches can include any/all of the following: Spinal manipulation (the neck and back “popping” that we’re known for), soft tissue massage, electric muscle stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, Graston or other instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization, cupping, dry-needling, stretches, exercises, nutritional counseling, and lifestyle recommendations. At Catalyst Chiropractic and Rehabilitation we offer most of these things, except for dry-needling because Oregon law prevents chiropractors from providing that service 🙁

Referring back to our social media posts from January, here are some examples of how we approach tension-type and cervicogenic headaches.

Relaxation techniques



Massage therapy

Chiropractic adjustments

This is where we would insert a video of me performing some adjustments, however we haven’t filmed any yet! We’re working on this and will definitely be uploading some videos soon. In the meantime, I want to mention a research article that was published recently about chiropractic treatment for cervicogenic headaches. This study was published by a researcher from my alma mater, the University of Western States here in Portland, Oregon. For this study, they had patients with cervicogenic headaches receive treatment 3x/week for 6 weeks. Treatment either involved a light massage (control group) or chiropractic adjustment. The reference is here

The conclusion reads as follows: “There was a linear dose-response relationship between SMT (chiropractic adjustment) visits and days with CGH (Cervicogenic headache). For the highest and most effective dose of 18 SMT visits, CGH days were reduced by half and about 3 more days per month than for the light-massage control.” In other words, the group who had the most adjustments during the 6 week study period showed the greatest decrease in number of days with a headache. It also looks like the control group who just received massage improved as well, so imagine getting both treatments combined!

In conclusion, headaches are nothing to ignore because they can have a negative effect on many aspects of your life and in some cases can even be dangerous. Chiropractic care can effectively manage many of the aspects that causes some types of headaches without the need for drugs or more invasive treatments. If you or a loved one are suffering from headaches and would like to learn more about how we can help you, call us at 503-526-8782 or contact us here today.

What happens when a chiropractor can’t practice??

I recently spent some time out of practice due to an elbow injury. Long story short, I crashed my mountain bike trying to land the smallest jump (a bunny hop over a root) in the history of mountain biking. Had it not actually broken my arm, I would say that crash hurt my ego more than my arm. I quickly realized (like, within seconds) that there is practically nothing I can do as a chiropractor without both of my hands…and elbows. I was lucky enough to find a remarkably capable fill-in in Dr. Bradley Chmelar to help our patients while I was taking time off to heal. While we liked having Dr. Chmelar around, I was very glad to be back after only 4 weeks off.

What did I do with all that time off, you might ask? Take an impromptu vacation? Knit matching sweaters for our next family photos? Read a book? Write a book? No, I did none of those things. Well ok, I read a book. But besides that, I spent a lot of time in my office. Not my treatment room. My office. As in my desk, office chair, computer, my family picture on the shelf, my skeleton – what, you don’t have a skeleton in your office? My point is, I spent a lot more time sitting than I usually do. One thing I love about being a chiropractor is that I get to move all day. I sit some, but I also stand, squat, lunge, kneel, demonstrate exercises and stretches with our patients, etc. For 4 weeks, though, I found myself being more sedentary than usual, sitting in front of my computer, letting my head drift out in front of my shoulders, catching myself slouching – ALL THINGS THAT CAUSE NECK AND BACK PAIN IN OUR CHIROPRACTIC PATIENTS! And guess what, my back and neck started to hurt after not too long.

This reminded me of how I started as a chiropractic patient. As a kid, whenever I went on long car rides, my rear end would hurt. At the time I thought that made sense. The longer you sit, the more sore your butt should get, right? Then as I got older and spent more time sitting in classrooms and studying, especially in college, the more this would happen. It was typically just on one side. It wasn’t until I actually started working for a chiropractor that it dawned on me that this could be some sort of sciatica. I also noticed that I would get stiffness in my neck and headaches the more I sat and studied. Eventually I started chiropractic treatment and with a regimen of chiropractic adjustments, some advice on posture and ergonomics, and a home exercise program, both my sciatica and my headaches cleared up. 

One good thing that came out of not working was that I had time to take more care of myself. I saw my chiropractor to help with the neck and upper back pain I was getting from sitting in my office chair, and I made sure to get up out of my chair and work on some of my favorite posture exercises. In the video above, I demonstrate 2 mobility drills for the upper back and 2 strengthening exercises for the shoulders and upper back. The thoracic spine (the part of your spine between the top and bottom of your rib cage) can get very stiff and rigid if we don’t work on it. That’s why I include these two thoracic mobility drills into my routine. They help to lubricate the joints and make it easier to extend your upper back and get out of the slouched position that we tend to get into when seated a lot. The two shoulder exercises are important because prolonged sitting can cause our shoulder to roll forward and inward, and these exercises are meant to strengthen the muscles that pull them back and down to counteract that effect. As always, theses exercises are just examples of what you could do to help ease postural stress, but you should always consult a healthcare or exercise professional to see what exercises are best for you to perform. Enjoy and feel free to contact me with any questions or to set up a consultation at our chiropractic clinic in Beaverton, OR.

Chiropractic care for hikers with heel pain

We’re continuing our theme this month on hiking injuries. In the last video I talked about what can cause knee pain in hikers and how we treat it. Today I’m going to talk about another common hiking injury – heel pain. Heel pain is a very common complaint in both hikers and runners. A very common diagnosis for heel pain in hikers is Plantar Fasciitis, or inflammation of the connective tissue that supports the arch of your foot.

The plantar fascia attaches to the inside part of your heel, and that’s why this can be one cause of your heel pain. The problem is that not all heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis. If you’re a hiker with heel pain, you may have tried or at least read online about several different methods of self treatment for heel pain – lacrosse balls, golf balls, heat, ice, kinesiotape, orthotic inserts, or special braces that stretch your foot while you sleep. If plantar fasciitis is not the cause of your heel pain, then perhaps none of those things will work. That is why it’s so important to see your healthcare provider for a proper examination and diagnosis, and your exam needs to include what we call the kinetic chain, or all the joints and tissues upstream from your foot. Your heel pain can be caused by anything from Achilles tendinitis, nerve entrapment at the ankle, peripheral neuropathy, stress fracture, or even a disc injury in your lower back.

Once we’ve gone through a thorough evaluation of a patient with heel pain, there are typically 3 areas we tend to focus on: The lower back, the ankle, and the foot.

If the lower back seems to be contributing to your heel pain, we have several different approaches to help with that. In the office, I can perform chiropractic adjustments as well as use a special table to apply traction to decompress your lower back and relieve pressure on irritated joints and nerve roots that can refer pain to your foot. I will also get you doing some stretches to relieve irritation on the same areas.

In the ankle and lower leg we typically see stiff joints, tight muscles and nerve irritation that contribute to heel pain and a potential diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. For that, we can do some adjusting and mobilization at the ankle, some neuromobilizations to help free up the nerves crossing through there, and deep tissue massage and stretching to loosen up tight muscles.

At the foot, we can also employ chiropractic adjustments, deep tissue massage to the plantar fascia, taping, orthotics, and strengthening exercises to improve the stability of the intrinsic muscles in your foot and reduce strain on the plantar fascia.

In the video above, I demonstrate a couple of mobility drills for the ankle and a strengthening exercise that, in addition to what we offer here at the clinic, can help you beat your heel pain and get back out on the trail.

What to expect on your first visit to Catalyst Chiropractic and Rehabilitation


Your first visit at Catalyst Chiropractic and Rehabilitation in Beaverton will consist of three parts: History, Examination, and Treatment.

We ask that you download your intake paperwork here and have it completed prior to your appointment time. Alternatively you can arrive 10-15 minutes prior to your appointment to complete your paperwork. It seems like a hassle, but this paperwork is a vital part of Dr. Thompson’s evaluation of your condition. You’ll answer questions about your current complaint as well as your past health history. Once the paperwork is complete Dr. Thompson will sit down with you in the treatment room, review your chart, and ask some more questions about your current complaint and past history.

After collecting all of the necessary information, Dr. Thompson will perform a chiropractic exam. This can include any/all of the following: Vital signs, range of motion testing, a movement assessment, orthopedic testing, neurological testing and an assessment of the alignment and quality of motion of the joints involved. Once finished with your exam, your diagnosis will be explained to you and a treatment plan will be laid out and any questions you have will be answered prior to beginning treatment.

Lastly, if you are a good candidate for chiropractic care, you will receive your first treatment the same day as your examination. This will be tailored to your individual needs and can include chiropractic adjustments/spinal manipulation, soft tissue massage, traction, therapeutic exercises and stretches, cold laser therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, or electrical muscle stimulation.

You will NOT be asked to pay up front for an extended number office visits nor will you be asked to enter into any sort of long term contract. A typical treatment plan consists of 2 office visits a week for 2-4 weeks. If significant improvement is not made during that time period, then additional treatment options, imaging, and/or a referral to another specialist will be considered.

Contact us today to get started on your personalized path to recovery!