Headaches Pt. 3: How to Fix Them

Where Does Scar Tissue Come From?

Just a quick review from last week – scar tissue commonly forms when a muscle gets overworked and doesn’t get enough blood flow/oxygen for an extended period of time. The damage from lack of oxygen or microtears leads to the accumulation of scarring over time. A scarred muscle produces less force and gets injured more easily. Your neck muscles have to hold your head up all day. The worse your posture gets, the harder these muscles have to work. Over years of looking at your phone or computer problems arise. Typically, when the upper neck is affected, headaches are the result.

Manual Therapy: Fixing Adhesion


Naturally, to fix the headache, we have to get rid of the scar tissue causing it. Our manual therapy consists of hands on and instrument assisted adhesion release. We use a variety of methods based on what’s most effective. To fix adhesion your chiropractor has to create a direct force throughout the muscle that lines up exactly with that muscle’s fibers. You can think of adhesion/scar tissue like gum on a shoe or mold on cheese (gross analogy I know). To effectively get rid of it, it has to be scraped or sheared off. If you push straight down on gum or mold it just squishes and returns to normal. To create permanent change, the direction of force/treatment matters more than anything.

Why Can’t I Just Foam Roll/Use a Lacrosse Ball?

Treating scarred tissue requires a very specific direction of treatment/tension. If you have a muscle full of adhesion pressure has to be applied in the direction that muscle travels in order to have a permanent effect. Any direct pressure or smashing force (ie. foam rollers) will only temporarily loosen the tissue. When we work on something in the office, we want our treatment to have the longest lasting effect possible. Click on the (poorly) hand drawn diagram to the right. Treatment has to go in the same direction as the fibers of whatever muscle we are treating, otherwise the effect will not be lasting.


How Can I Stop It?

First, if you’ve built up the problem, it needs to be corrected. Prevention can’t start until the problem is gone. After that, if you’ve got a job that is hard on one particular area of your body, that part of your body will probably need maintenance until you either get a different job or retire. If you drive your car, you have to do occasional maintenance. If you never use your car, that can create problems as well.

While you’re feeling good, preventative exercises are critical. If you solve the problem and then create more of the same problem you’re back at square 1. If you solve the problem, then add in postural and joint exercises with occasional treatment on the area, your problems will typically be small. Even the best of intentions fail when it comes to daily exercises so it is best to continue correcting the areas you know give you trouble.

Story Time

Imagine your neck muscles can tolerate 50 hours of your job per week before they start to fail and become symptomatic. Now say you work 55 hours per week for the majority of the year. Your neck muscles are falling into a deficit of 5 hours of work per week. Over a couple of weeks that’s no big deal. Over the course of years, this translates into thousands of hours of stress that your neck was unable to recover from. This is where microtears and scar tissue come into play. Build up enough, and now your neck can only handle 30-35 hours of work per week before you have symptoms. The problem with scarring is that exercise and good posture don’t get rid of it, they only help prevent it. Once scarring has built up in an area it has to be dealt with by a professional.

We constantly hear the phrase, “My hamstrings are always tight no matter how much I stretch them.” That is a classic statement for anyone who has developed a dysfunctional amount of scarring. Without proper treatment, that statement will stay exactly the same or get worse.

If you know someone who constantly struggles with long term pain or headaches, have them give us a call. The doctors you choose matter greatly when considering the end result. Make sure they are treated by someone you can trust.

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