Almost everyone (well 96% of the population according to researchers), will suffer a headache at some point in their life. Unfortunately for many people, they are a recurrent problem that has a significant impact on their life. So, is physiotherapy the solution?
Before we can answer that question, we need to acknowledge that not all headaches are the same.
Cervicogenic and tension type headache
This sort of headache originates from your neck. Essentially stiffening of the upper 3 joints in your neck causes nerve irritation that leads to head pain. A cervicogenic headache always comes with associated neck pain/stiffness while a tension type may not be felt in the neck itself despite being the cause.
Temporomandibular (jaw) joint problems can also cause head pain. Typically, the muscles that close the mouth become over active & this excessive muscle tension causes a headache. Those people who grind their teeth often end up with temporomandibular headaches.
Migraines are probably the most well known of the headache types, although they actually only represent 10% of all headaches. In addition to head pain, a migraine sufferer also experiences nausea/vomiting as well as extreme sensitivity to light & sound. Their cause is still not well understood but recent research demonstrates that the neck may play a bigger role than initially thought. Emotional stress & diet have both been implicated.
These are episodes of repeated (clusters) of short term headaches (less than 3hrs) that appear to be triggered by substances that dilate/expand your blood vessels – alcohol, glyceryl trinitrate (used to treat angina) & excessive histamine (perhaps from an allergic reaction) are the most common triggers. However, recent research indicates that sufferers of these headaches may have an oversensitised brainstem which may be intertwined with neck dysfunction.
TREATING YOUR HEADACHE
You may have noticed a trend - Disorders of the upper neck are significantly underestimated as the cause of many different forms of headache.
A skilled physiotherapist can assess the neck & jaw structures and determine if the source of your headache/migraine is actually from your neck. They can design an appropriate plan of treatment to fix any abnormalities. This will usually involve manual techniques to loosen your tight joints and release your tight/spasming muscles (including massage & dry needling). Strategies can then be put in place for these headache sufferers to prevent or self manage their headaches in the future.
Dylan Clifford has a special interest in the assessment and management of headaches and migraines (he has completed the three day Watson Headache® Institute, Level 1 Course).
Click here to book an appointment with one of the excellent physiotherapists at Back In Motion Camberwell if you are a headache sufferer.
Dylan Clifford (Member APA) – Physiotherapist at Back In Motion Camberwell