Cervicogenic Headache – Results of Electrical Nerve Stimulation vs. Manipulation

A recent study (Li C, Xiu-ling Z, Hong D, Yue-qiang T, Hong-sheng Z. Comparative study on effects of manipulation treatment and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation [TENS] on patients with cervicogenic headache J Chin Integrat Med 2007;5(4) DOI:10.3736/jcm20070408) compared alternative treatments for patients suffering from cervicogenic headaches, headaches related to/caused by your neck. Patients will typically have pain with neck motion and also limited mobility. There may also be a history of a neck injury such as a whiplash or head trauma. The study of seventy patients was randomized to minimize bias. Patients either had TENS (nerve stimulation) or manipulations. They were given treatments every other day for forty days (about 20 visits).

After treatments, patients’ pain scores were compared. The group receiving manipulations had significant reductions in the headache pain score, the frequency (how often) of headaches, and the duration of the headaches. There was a 94.5% response in the manipulation group compared to 64.5% in those patients getting nerve stimulation.

If you get headaches after your neck begins to give you trouble (pain, stiffness), then this could indicate you have a cervicogenic headache. Also, many patients do not fit neatly into categories that scientists and doctors conjure up. Many patients with migraines and tension-type headaches will complain of neck pains and problems. These types of headaches also respond favorably to chiropractic care applied to mechanical problems/subluxations in the neck when studied in randomized clinical trials. There are also fewer side effects when compared to drug treatments.

In Chiropractic, we direct treatment to the cause-the mechanical problem/subluxation in your neck. Drugs and surgery are ineffective options for these mechanical-types of problems. Chiropractic care has a low-risk safety profile, especially when compared to long-term drug use or surgery. As seen in the study above, electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to block pain is relatively safe, but it also appears less effective than manipulations in combating headache pain from the neck.