I used to have headaches all the time. Whether from allergies or anxiety or clenching my teeth, headaches were a part of my life, and I had accepted that — until about three months ago.
Like everyone, I get stressed. To address it, I do yoga (badly) and I run (begrudgingly), but when I’m busy, exercise is the first thing to go, even though I know that’s unwise. So I was not surprised when, in the midst of several huge projects last year, my headaches set up permanent shop. My jaw felt like a rubber band that had been stretched to its limit. Eventually it got so bad I mentioned the problem to a physical therapist, who suggested I see a chiropractor.
What I expected
My first reaction was: ‘Yeah, right.’ Over the years, I’d been to eye doctors, acupuncturists, ENTs and everyone in between for headaches. Chiropractors never made my list simply because I thought of them as people who work on your back, and my back is fine. But I was at the end of my rope, and chiropractors are covered by my insurance, so I decided to give it a try. Based on what I’d seen on TV, I expected to go in, have her “pop me back into place” and be on my way. What I got, however, was an education.
What actually happened
In 45 minutes, my chiropractor taught me more about my body than I’ve learned since high school anatomy. She listened to my symptoms and showed me all the muscles in my head that could be causing the pinching jaw pain I’d experience every afternoon. Only after we talked for 20 minutes did she have me lay on the table, assess me physically and perform adjustments.
And again, I learned something: Adjustments, or manipulations, are what many of us think of when we picture a chiropractor “popping you back into place;” However manipulations don’t technically put anything “back” in the way we think they do. If something were truly “out of place,” it would be broken or herniated, which is much more serious. So it’s better to think of adjustments as a kind of physical therapy.
My chiropractor gave me two concrete suggestions:
1. My computer screen might be too low
When you’re typing, you want your neck to look like this, especially if you sit at a desk all day. With my desk at wrist height and my computer only a few inches above, I was constantly looking down, which is not the natural curve of your neck so certain muscles have to work overtime to keep your head up. The fix? A $15 stand that props up my screen a few inches. It’s a change I wish I’d made 10 years ago.
2. I needed to strengthen some muscles (and not the ones I thought)
There is a whole pulley system of muscles and bones at work in your body keeping you upright every day. (If you’ve ever seen a newborn baby who can’t lift her head, you’ve seen a lack of this system in action.) The details of each case are specific, but suffice it to say my body was using the wrong muscle to keep my jaw closed. The muscle that should have been doing the job was weak, my body compensated, and a bad habit was born. On my own, I never would have Googled enough magic words to figure that out.
And that’s one benefit of chiropractors: They see issues that seem invisible to us and offer advice on how to address them. In my case, a few daily exercises did the trick; for other people and other conditions, it can be more complicated. But there’s nothing to lose by checking it out, especially if you suffer from chronic pain, or if you think stress might be triggering an overreaction by your body.
Here are a few conditions chiropractors may be able to diagnose or treat:
- Decreased flexibility/range of motion
- Sport injuries
- Muscle, tissue and tendon strains/sprains
- Nerve or immune system deficiencies
While you don’t need a referral for a chiropractor, it’s always safest to talk to your primary care physician first, especially if you have a chronic medical condition that could cause complications. It’s also important to make sure this provider is in-network with your health insurance. BlueCross members can use the Find a Doctor tool to find an in-network provider.