Efficacy and Adverse Effects of Chiropractic Treatment for Migraines


By Mark Studin

William J. Owens

A report on the scientific literature

When considering care for migraines, there are a myriad of considerations; efficacy of treatment, costs to sufferers and insurers and the socioeconomic impact to individuals, business and families of those who suffer. When considering there are co-morbidities that must be considered in the quest for a “best-outcome,” avoiding any potential side effects, both with pharmacological and non-pharmacological care paths are critical. Chaibi, Benth, Tuchin and Bjorn (2017) reported “Manual-therapy [chiropractic spinal adjustments] is a non-pharmacological prophylactic treatment option that appears to have a similar effect as the drug topiramate on migraine frequency, migraine duration, migraine intensity and medicine consumption.” (pg. 66) Although previous reports indicate that chiropractic was upwards of 57% more effective (see ensuing comments), for this report, we are going to focus on the side effects of treatment, as efficacy has already been established.

Studin and Owens (2011) reported, “Nelson, Suter, Casha, du Plessis and Hurlbert (1998) reported on randomized clinical trials that took place over an 8-week course. The results showed there was minor statistical differences in outcomes for improvement during the trial period for chiropractic care and for amatriptyline and over-the-counter medications for treating migraine headaches. It was also reported that there was no statistical benefit in combining therapies. However, the major factor is that in the post-treatment follow-up period, chiropractic was 57% more effective in the reduction of headaches than drug therapy. In addition, it was reported that, with the drug group, "...58% experienced medication side effects important enough to report them. In the amatriptyline group, 10% of the subjects had to withdraw from the study because of intolerable side effects. Side effects in the SMT (Spinal Manipulative Therapy) group were much more benign, infrequent, mild and transitory. None required withdrawal from the study (Nelson et al., 1998, p. 511).

Using the 57% increased effectiveness that chiropractic has over drug therapy (leaving out the overlap that chiropractic could help without drugs) and the $24,000,000,000 ($24 billion) Americans pay for headaches and migraines, the savings would result in $13,680,000,000. back in the insurers, the public's and the government's pockets. In addition, if chiropractic reduced the necessity for emergency room visits by 57%, then the ED doctors could focus on what their primary purpose is, to save lives in urgent scenarios.”

Retrieved from: http://www.uschirodirectory.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=533:headaches-and-migraines-chiropractic-saves-federal-and-private-insurers-13-680-000-000-and-resolves-many-issues-facing-emergency-rooms-today&Itemid=320


Studin and Owens (2011) also reported, “Bryans, et. al. (2011) confirmed Nelson's findings and reported that spinal manipulation (adjusting) is recommended for patients with episodic or chronic migraines with or without aura and patients with cervicogenic headaches. This follow-up study is not a comparison or comment on the use of drugs. It simply demonstrates that chiropractic is a viable solution for many and can save the government and private industry billions in expenditures both in health care coverage, loss of productivity and avoidance of absenteeism in industry creating a new level of cost as sequella to headaches.” Retrieved from: http://www.uschirodirectory.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=533:headaches-and-migraines-chiropractic-saves-federal-and-private-insurers-13-680-000-000-and-resolves-many-issues-facing-emergency-rooms-today&Itemid=320


Chaibi, Benth, Tuchin and Bjorn (2017) reported,The results of the current study and previous CSMT (chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy) studies suggest that AEs are usually mild and transient, and severe and serious AEs (adverse effects) are rare (Tuchin, 2012; Cassidy et al., 2008, 2016). These findings are in accordance with the World Health Organization guidelines on basic training and safety in CSMT, which has considered it to be an efficient and safe treatment modality (WHO, 2005). AEs in migraine prophylactic pharmacological RCTs (random control trials) are common (Jackson et al., 2015). The risk for AEs during manual-therapy appears also, to be substantially lower than the risk accepted in any medical context for both acute and prophylactic migraine medication (Jackson et al., 2015; Ferrari et al., 2001). Non-pharmacological management also has the advantage of no pharmacological interactions/AEs because such therapies are usually mild and have a transient characteristic, whereas pharmacological AEs tend to be continuous.” (pg. 70)

Mackenzie, Phillips, and Lurie (2015) reported on the safety in general for chiropractic patients and based their study on 6,669,603 subjects and after the unqualified subjects had been removed from the study, the total patient number accounted for 24,068,808 office visits. They concluded, “No mechanism by which SM [spinal manipulation] induces injury into normal healthy tissues has been identified”(Whedon et al., 2015, p. 5). This study supersedes all the rhetoric about chiropractic and stroke and renders an outcome assessment to help guide the triage pattern of mechanical spine patients.

When considering the outcomes for chiropractic care vs. drug therapy and the safety for migraine sufferers and all other types of chiropractic patients in a large population study, chiropractic should be considered the first option for both referrals from medical primary care providers and the first treatment option for the public. This validates the common-sense approach to healthcare of “drugless first, drugs second and surgery last.” Too often, society for issues that are not germane to this argument, rely on dogma for healthcare solutions often a large risk to themselves and the results affect the entire socio-economics of that person’s life.


  1. Chaibi, A., Benth, J. Š., Tuchin, P. J., & Russell, M. B. (2017). Adverse events in a chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy single-blinded, placebo, randomized controlled trial for migraineurs. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice29, 66-71.
  2. Studin M., Owens W., (2010) Headaches and Migraines: Chiropractic Saves Federal and Private Insurers $13,680,000,000 and Resolves Many Issues Facing Emergency Rooms Today
  3. Nelson, C. F., Bronfort, G., Evans, R., Boline, P., Goldsmith, C., & Anderson, A. V. (1998). The efficacy of spinal manipulation, amitriptyline and the combination of both therapies for the prophylaxis of migraine headache. Journal of Manipulative & Physiological Therapeutics, 21(8), 511-519.
  4. Studin M., Owens W., (2010) Headaches & Migraines: Chiropractic vs. Medicine Effectiveness and Safety, Retrieved from: http://www.uschirodirectory.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=533:headaches-and-migraines-chiropractic-saves-federal-and-private-insurers-13-680-000-000-and-resolves-many-issues-facing-emergency-rooms-today&Itemid=320
  5. Bryans,
  6. Doheny, K. (2006). Recognizing the financial pain of migraines. Workforce Management, 85
  1. Whedon, J. M., Mackenzie, T. A., Phillips, R. B., & Lurie, J. D. (2015). Risk of traumatic injury associated with chiropractic spinal manipulation in Medicare Part B beneficiaries aged 66-69 years. Spine, 40(4), 264-270.

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Published in Neck Problems