Is There A Link Between Scoliosis and Migraines
As a scoliosis specialist and orthopedic physical therapist for almost 25 years, I have treated hundreds of people with headaches, migraines, neck pain and scoliosis. Trying to find a consistent causative link between the symptoms and the cause of migraines can be very daunting for all of us. To help you better treat your symptoms, we must first start by understanding the connection between these two issues. Read on to see how scoliosis and migraines are defined, why the curvature of your spine might be contributing to your migraines and what the latest research tells us can be done about it.
Scoliosis and Migraines: Is There a Connection?
Scoliosis, a condition that causes a sideways curvature and rotation of the spine, is a common condition that affects millions of people around the world but is not necessarily painful or disruptive to daily activity. It can make the spine look like the letter “S” or “C” when viewed from behind as well as impacting our posture from front to back. Diagnosed in adolescence, there is often little pain but, left untreated, scoliosis continues to progress in our spine, on average, 0.5 to 1 degree each year. This is often where we see secondary problems like low back pain, neck pain and headaches start to develop which you might not immediately realize are symptoms of your underlying spinal position and posture. It important to remember that the spine, as part of our central nervous system, requires mobility and flexibility to facilitate blood flow and nutrition to our head and neck. Our natural spinal curvatures work together to absorb forces in a spring-like way that make is possible for impact and pressure to be equally absorbed throughout our body. The curves of our spine also help to preserve the healthy nutrition of our discs that separate each vertebrae and leave adequate openings for our nerves to exit our spinal cord.
Migraines, on the other hand, are a type of headache that can be debilitating and affect daily life. Migraines are a type of headaches that is usually characterized by intense, throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head that may be accompanied by a sensitivity to light or noise in addition to nausea and vomiting. The exact causes of migraines are still not fully understood but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Some causes of migraines include muscle strain, disruptions to cerebrospinal fluid or blood flow to the head and/or fluctuations in estrogen levels. While scoliosis and migraines may seem unrelated, some studies suggest that there may be a possible link between the two. Obviously, triggers and symptoms will vary from person to person.
Research on the Relationship Between Scoliosis and Migraines
Several studies have explored the potential relationship between scoliosis and migraines. A 2014 study published in the European Spine Journal found that patients with scoliosis were more likely to experience chronic migraines compared to those without scoliosis. Similarly, a small study from 2007 found that patients with scoliosis were more likely to report headaches than those without scoliosis.
However, it is important to note that these studies have limitations. They do not prove that scoliosis directly causes migraines, and more research is needed to better understand the relationship between the two conditions.
Potential Explanations for the Connection
One theory is that the abnormal curvature of the spine in scoliosis can create tension and stress on the neck muscles and nerves, which can lead to migraines. In addition, some researchers believe that scoliosis can cause changes in blood flow to the brain, which can also trigger migraines.
While these theories are plausible, they are not yet fully understood. If we consider this photo to the right, we can see that this patient has an upper back compensation to the left of midline due to a main thoracic curve to the right. It has caused an elevation of the 1st and 2nd rib on the left which can decrease blood flow as it exits from the neck to the chest. On the opposite side, it causes compression of the vertebrae on the right side which could cause neck pain and, sometimes, tingling into the upper arms. Though nothing has been consistently proven in the research, we can see how the imbalances caused by the scoliosis would impair the ability for the bones, muscles, blood vessels and nerves to act efficiently all the time. Even less so when they are under stress.
What Can You Do?
If you or someone you know is experiencing frequent migraines or chronic headaches, it’s important to speak with a medical professional for proper diagnosis and treatment recommendations. They can help determine the underlying cause of the headaches and provide appropriate treatment options.
Similarly, if you or someone you know has scoliosis, it’s important to seek medical advice from a healthcare professional. Treatment for scoliosis depends on the severity of the condition and can include bracing, scoliosis-specific Schroth physical therapy, or surgery.
In the meantime, there are steps you can take to help manage migraines, such as avoiding triggers, practicing stress-reduction techniques, and taking medication as prescribed. For scoliosis, specialized scoliosis-specific physical therapists can provide manual therapy techniques, stretching and exercises to help improve flexibility and postural re-alignment to unload the neck and shoulders and enhance your ability to hold yourself in midline.
While the relationship between scoliosis and migraines is not yet fully understood, some studies suggest that there may be a possible link between the two conditions. More research is needed to better understand this relationship and identify any potential explanations. In the meantime, if you or someone you know is experiencing migraines or has scoliosis, it’s important to seek medical advice from a healthcare professional to manage the condition to get out of the cycle of pain sooner than later.
If you would like further information or assessment of your neck or scoliosis to manage these symptoms, please reach out to us at email@example.com or 512-629-4431. Participating in our functional treatment approach can help to alleviate the symptoms that are causing you pain and dysfunction while restoring a happier, healthier lifestyle.