Headaches are relatively common in children and adolescents. The prevalence of severe recurrent headaches in those under the age of 10 is almost 10 per 1,000 and the number increases as the child gets older. Headaches cause missed school days, limit participation in social activities, family events, and school activities. Children’s headaches (e.g., migraine) exhibit no gender variation before puberty. In late adolescence, however, twice as many females report recurrent headaches. When a child has a recurrent headache, certain causes are more likely than others. As a parent you have a choice. Pain medication may alleviate some of the discomfort but they only cover the symptom and do nothing to address the underlying cause of the headache.

Treating pain can be dangerous

Most nonprescription products have warnings against use in younger children. Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol, Tempra) can cause serious side effects. Aspirin is no longer a good choice for headache in children of any age, due to the possibility of Reye’s syndrome (may cause death). Naproxen sodium (Aleve) is not to be given to anyone under the age of 12, and ketoprofen (Orudis KT) is not to be given to anyone under the age of 16. Even, ibuprofen can cause kidney damage in both children and adults. No product is indicated for children under the age of 6 months. Adults also experience pain medication side-effects. Best estimates of hospitalization and death amongst these patients from gastrointestinal ulcers caused by these medications are 40,000 per million (4 %) and 4,000 per million (.4%) respectively. In the US this amounts to 32,000 hospitalizations per annum, 3,200 deaths. Surgery carries even greater risk. Serious complications from cervical spine surgery for neck pain are 15,600 cases of paralysis or stroke per million, and the mortality rate is 6,900 per million. Recently, a long-term outcome study of headaches in childhood was completed using 11,407 participants. This is the first study on the topic using prospectively collected population based data, which confirms that children with headaches do not simply “grow out” of their complaint and may also “grow into” others. Waiting for your child to out grow headaches is not in their best interest. Chiropractic is a viable option.

The chiropractic approach

One of the most common causes of headaches is a condition that chiropractic adjustments help to correct. The condition is called cervical spine facet joint dysfunction or Vertebral Subluxation. It was demonstrated convincingly during the 1990’s by medical researchers at the Cervical Spine Research Unit, University of Newcastle, Australia. The ten year line of research published in Spine reported the exact source of headache and neck pain in 60% of participants was facet joints in the cervical spine (neck bones). Correcting restricted movement of cervical facet joints, and thereby influencing associated spinal reflexes, nerves and muscle tension, is a principal target of chiropractic care.

The scientists from the University of Maryland make this comment writing in Encyclopedia Britannica’s 1998 Medical and Health Annual: Spinal manipulation (adjustment) as a treatment for tension headache is predicated upon the assumption that dysfunction in the neck muscles contributes to the head pain; The muscle-dura (the covering of the brain) connection may represent – at least in part the underlying anatomic basis for the effectiveness of this treatment. Such treatment, as performed by a chiropractor, would decrease muscle tension and thereby reduce or eliminate pain by reducing the potential forces exerted on the dura via the muscle-dura connection. Chiropractic adjustments work toward correcting the cause of the headache by improving the biomechanics of the spine.

Recent evidence from Duke University concluded that cervicogenic headaches (CGH), one of the common forms of headaches, was effectively treated with spinal adjustments. Chiropractic adjustments also resulted in more sustained benefit, in terms of both headache frequency and intensity, than amitriptyline medication with Tension-type (TTH) headaches.


Scientific evidence supports chiropractic adjustments as safe, effective and an appropriate choice for patients with many common forms of neck pain and headaches. Children enjoy gentle chiropractic adjustments and their parents feel more comfortable with the non-pharmacological approach of chiropractic care.