Dr. Erin Elster    
Drug-Free Alternative For Pediatric Headaches

Boulder County Family Connection .July 2000.
by Erin Elster, DC.

Upper Cervical Chiropractic care, a specialized health care technique incorporating modern computerized technology, has been effective in the treatment of pediatric headaches. Sinus, tension, migraine, and chronic daily headaches can be corrected without the use of drugs freeing children from chronic pain and suffering.

It's Not All In Their Head

Most adult headache sufferers started having headaches as children. In fact, twenty percent of adults reported onset of headaches prior to age ten. (American Council For Headache Education, 1997) Suffering with pain for many years 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. (Headache, 1996) Kathryn, a 23-year-old University of Colorado student, lived in fear of her next migraine attack. "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 was afraid that I would have a migraine two times a month for the rest of my life." After Upper Cervical Chiropractic care, she "… rarely had a mild headache, let alone a severe migraine!" Kathryn has been free from migraine headaches for over two years.

Migraine Prevalence in Children

Prevalence of migraine headaches in school age children tripled from 1.9 percent in 1974 to 5.7 percent in 1992. (Headache, 1996) It is estimated that eight million children and adolescents suffer from migraine headaches, resulting in over one million lost school days each year. (Mayo Clinic Women's Health Source, August 1997)

Headache Types and Medical Treatment

Headache categories include migraine with an aura, migraine without an aura, tension, and chronic daily headaches. Children also may suffer from headaches due to chronic sinus and/or ear infections. Medical treatment for headaches consists of medication targeted to reduce the inflammation of nerves and blood vessels once the headaches have started and/or medication to fight infections. (American Medical Association Physician Select Reference Library, 1997) However, no drug exists that prevents future headaches. Jami, a 23-year-old Boulder resident, tried all of the medications available. "Since junior high I suffered through daily headaches and took many strong drugs prescribed by a neurologist with no success," she said. "Last spring, I found Upper Cervical Chiropractic and am happy to say that I am headache-free!" Jami has been free from headaches and medications for over one year.

Migraine Headaches and the Upper Cervical Spine

Medical literature has established the role the upper cervical spine plays in producing migraine headaches. (Spine, 1992) When the upper neck is injured, a bundle of nerves (the superior cervical ganglion) becomes irritated. Because one of the main functions of this nerve bundle is to control blood flow to the brain, irritation of these nerves causes altered brain blood flow resulting in headaches. Multiple published studies showed that patients receiving chiropractic care experienced as much as 75 to 90 percent permanent relief from headaches. (Journal of the American Chiropractic Association, 1978) Through the application of specialized upper cervical chiropractic treatment, patients noted even more successful results with many experiencing 100 percent resolution of headaches.

How Do Children Develop Spinal Problems So Early In Life?

In children and newborns, a common cause of neck injury is birth trauma, especially during precipitous delivery, prematurity, breech delivery, and forceful traction or forceps births. (Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 1969) Even during the gentlest of births, presentation of the baby's head through the birth canal requires physical pressure exerted by the mother, possibly forcing the baby's neck to twist or bend. Often during the delivery, the practitioner will pull or twist the head to assist with the delivery, compounding the problem. As children grow older, the inevitable tumbles and falls of childhood increase the risk of injury to the upper cervical spine. Injuries can also occur as children begin sports such as gymnastics, soccer, skiing, or bike riding. As a result of neck injuries, children can experience many symptoms besides headaches, such as neck pain, back pain, chronic infections, irritability, and hyperactivity, to name a few. The proper correction of the child's neck injury can improve or eliminate many of the above named symptoms.

How Upper Cervical Chiropractic Works

Upper Cervical Chiropractic works by correcting irritation to the nervous system, the original cause of 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, headaches can be corrected and prevented. Typical Upper Cervical Chiropractic care involves an initial spinal exam, specific x-rays of the upper neck to view the injured vertebrae, computerized spinal scans to monitor neurophysiology, and specific adjustments by hand to correct the misaligned vertebrae in the upper neck.

Dr. Erin Elster is an Upper Cervical Chiropractor. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Palmer College of Chiropractic, Iowa. Questions about Upper Cervical Chiropractic should be directed to Dr. Elster in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii at (808) 866-6551 or visit her web site, www.erinelster.com.