Dr. Erin Elster    
New Treatment Provides Freedom From Migraine Headaches

Women's Magazine. October 1998.
by Erin Elster, DC.

A new health care technique known as Upper Cervical Chiropractic has proven to be remarkably effective in the treatment of migraine headaches. Jennifer, a 44-year-old Boulder art teacher, struggled with migraines for many years before she found Upper Cervical Chiropractic. "I had migraines for ten years. They started during a difficult pregnancy. After my daughter was born, the migraines increased and became a predictable event every month around my menstrual cycle. I tried every possible medication physicians offered but the migraines increased to twice a month. I felt very helpless," she said. Jennifer's migraines were later corrected by Upper Cervical Care. "After I lost a month of work from consecutive migraines, a friend told me about Dr. Elster's care. A series of x-rays, several adjustments, and the Doctor's encouragement were all it took to eliminate these debilitating headaches," she said. Jennifer has been migraine-free for over a year.


Migraines affect approximately 26 million Americans-- 70 percent of them women. Eight million sufferers are children and adolescents, resulting in over one million lost school days each year. Migraine sufferers miss an average of four workdays a year and pay a large percentage of the four billion dollars spent each year on over-the-counter pain relievers. It is estimated that 150 million workdays are lost annually due to migraines (Mayo Clinic Women's Health Source, August 1997).


Migraine is a disorder of the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves) that causes recurring headaches. These headaches are characterized by pain that usually occurs on only one side of the head and is accompanied by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and tenderness of the scalp. The pain can move from one part of the head to another or down into the neck and shoulder and can last for anywhere from several hours to several days. Migraines are usually disabling, and once the headache goes away the person feels tired and irritable and has difficulty concentrating (American Medical Association Physician Select Reference Library, 1997).


According to medical research, the exact cause of migraine headaches is not completely understood but has been linked to an overly sensitive nervous system. Migraine headaches occur when changes in brain chemistry cause inflammation of nerves and blood vessels around the brain. Current medical treatment for migraines is medication targeted to reduce the inflammation of nerves and blood vessels once the headaches have started (American Medical Association Physician Select Reference Library, 1997).

However, no drug exists which corrects the original nervous system irritation and prevents future headaches. Jami, a 23-year-old Boulder resident, tried all the medications available. "Since junior high I had suffered through daily headaches and had taken many strong drugs prescribed by a neurologist with no success," she said. "This spring, I found Upper Cervical Chiropractic and am happy to say that I am headache-free!" After Upper Cervical Chiropractic care, Jami has been free from migraines and medications for six months.


Upper Cervical Chiropractic works by correcting irritation to the nervous system, the original cause of migraine headaches. Misalignments in the vertebrae of the upper cervical spine (upper neck), cause irritation to the nerves traveling between the brain and spinal cord and to the blood vessels traveling to the head. By correcting the vertebrae in the upper neck, migraines can be corrected and prevented. Typical Upper Cervical care involves an initial spinal exam, specific x-rays of the upper neck, computerized spinal scans known as Computerized Infrared Thermography to measure nervous system irritation, and specific adjustments by hand to correct the misaligned vertebrae in the upper neck.

Causes of misalignments to the spinal vertebrae include traumas, auto accidents, sports injuries, bike and ski falls, and poor posture. Liz, age 28, a Boulder hair stylist, did not have trouble with migraine headaches until she took up snowboarding. "I began having migraines during the last five years after head-first crashes while snowboarding," she said. "Within two weeks of Upper Cervical Care, my symptoms began to diminish. Within a month, I was able to stop taking my daily medication because the migraines stopped," says Liz. She has been migraine-free for the past eight months.


According to a 1996 national study, migraine headaches have a significant impact on the lives of female sufferers in the areas of self-esteem, professional development and family and social life. Thirty-three percent of female sufferers with children reported that migraine has had a negative impact on their relationship with their children. A majority of these mothers reported that they could not engage in activities with children during a migraine attack ("New Study Shows Migraine Hits Women Harder", Research Triangle Park, N.C., Sept. 25, 1996).

In addition, one-third of female migraine sufferers in the study reported that migraine headaches affected their ability to control their lives and that they live in fear of their next migraine attack. Kathryn, a 23-year-old University of Colorado student, agreed with these feelings of hopelessness and loss of control. "I began having migraines when I was seven years old and tried drugs, biofeedback and massages but nothing seemed to prevent the headaches," she explained. "I began to accept the fact that I would have a migraine two times a month for the rest of my life." After Upper Cervical Chiropractic care, she "... rarely gets even a mild headache, let alone a severe migraine!"


Another recent study showed that prevalence of migraine headaches in school age children has tripled from 1.9 percent in 1974 to 5.7 percent in 1992. Because migraines typically begin during childhood, this condition may have a harmful impact on a child's future growth and productivity. "A history of migraine may set children up for a lifetime of underachievement," noted Richard Lipton, MD, a board member of AASH (Headache, Journal of the American Association for the Study of Headache, 1996). Tina, age 26, attributed her ability to complete her education and become a successful doctor to Upper Cervical Chiropractic. "Without Upper Cervical Chiropractic, I would not have been able to finish school because my migraines were running back to back and lasting three weeks each. My first upper cervical adjustment stopped my migraine immediately, and today I live without the fear of migraines and have a career that I enjoy!"

Dr. Erin Elster is an Upper Cervical Chiropractor. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Palmer College of Chiropractic, Iowa. For further information about upper cervical chiropractic care and headaches, please contact Dr. Erin Elster in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii at (808) 866-6551 or browse her web site: www.erinelster.com.