We certainly hope not. Unless you have a brain tumor, surgery is rarely an option considered by people with benign headaches. When we say benign, we mean not caused by cancer or some other serious medical disorder. Benign headaches can, in fact, be quite disabling and can completely disrupt a person’s quality of life.
Although most headaches are treated conservatively, surgeons have recently begun to take an interest. In 2008, Dr. Jürgen Jansen reported on a group of 60 patients who underwent operations to treat cervicogenic headaches, or headaches originating in the neck. These types of headaches respond very well to chiropractic adjustments. In Dr. Jansen’s study, he reports removing the disks of C4, C5, and C6 levels in different patients. He analyzed the results over two years later and found that the conditions of about 36-37% of the patients had deteriorated. Although Dr. Jansen thinks surgery should be considered more often based on his case series, the lack of a control group makes his results suspect, modest as they are.
Surgery is really a very last step in the treatment palette patients should consider. Unfortunately, many patients only consider medications as options for headache management. For some patients, taking large quantities of over-the-counter drugs to treat their headaches can even aggravate their headaches and make them worse.
The important thing is to first get your headache properly diagnosed because only then can a specific treatment be applied. What is somewhat underappreciated is how common spinal problems can cause head pain.
Cervicogenic and tension-type headaches can commonly result from whiplash trauma and other acceleration injuries of the head and neck. This type of trauma can sprain the cervical ligaments and disks, and cause tears in muscle fibers. Tension-type and cervicogenic headaches have been shown in randomized clinical trials to respond favorably to chiropractic adjustive care. These studies have also shown minimal side effects when compared to certain medications. This is especially true for tension-type medication treatments.