Headaches are a common complaint and unfortunately, we will all suffer the odd headache or two in our lifetime. When headaches become more intense or more frequent it's time to get them checked out and find a way to treat them.
Headaches can look very different person to person and can be caused by a variety of factors. For this reason, they are often poorly diagnosed, overlooked and left untreated. It’s often a combination of stressors from the list below that results in the onset of a headache or migraine.
Screen time / Visual strains
Neck pain and tensions
Jaw tension and misalignment
Dental issues or dental treatment
Head injury / Whiplash
Diet / nutritional deficiencies
Hormonal imbalances and fluctuations
Allergies and sinus pressure
If you are suffering chronic headaches or migraines, it’s important to try and identify what is triggering them. Once you have figured out the root cause of your headaches, building a treatment plan becomes much easier.
What is the difference between a headache and a migraine?
Headaches are defined as a continuous pain in the head. The pain is often focused to the forehead, temples or occipital zone at the base of the skull. Headaches are most commonly dull and throbbing in nature and can affect just one side of the head or both sides.
Migraines differ from everyday headaches in that they are often much more intense and come with additional symptoms such nausea, vomiting, vertigo, visual disturbance and light sensitivity. Migraines tend to last a lot longer than headaches and can be very debilitating, people often find they have to stop what they are doing and go to bed to sleep off a migraine.
Effective treatments for migraines are pain management medications, exercise, dietary changes and physical therapy.
With both headaches and migraines figuring out your triggers and aggravating factors is key in keeping pains at bay. For example, if you have identified chocolate as a trigger then the answer is simply (but sadly) to avoid chocolate in future. Common dietary triggers for migraines are alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, dairy and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame.
Can osteopathy help with headaches and migraines?
Research by the National Library of Medicine shows that osteopathic treatment is a successful and recommended method of headache/migraine management and prevention. (link to research paper)
Tension headaches and cervicogenic headaches
Tension headaches and cervicogenic headaches are the most common types of headaches we see in the clinic. The world health organisation (WHO) estimates about 50% of the population will suffer these types of headaches in any given year.
These types of headache stem from tensions and/or dysfunction in the neck and spine. Underlying structural problems such as joint restrictions, postural changes, spinal misalignment, and muscular imbalances can all cause local irritation, inflammation and neurological referred pain into the head, face and neck. This type of headache is common in people who spend a lot of time working at a desk or driving. Dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), aka the jaw, is also a really common structural cause of headaches and facial pain.
So how does osteopathy help?
Your osteopath is expertly trained in the anatomy and biomechanics of the head, neck and spine (as well as the rest of the body). Osteopaths are specialists in examining and diagnosing the structural dysfunctions or imbalances that might lead to a headache.
With hands-on treatments such as massage, stretching, joint articulation and joint manipulation your osteopath can help to alleviate tension, boost circulation, improve joint mobility, and correct any postural strains. Your therapist will also take a detailed case history with you that helps to identify any other habits that might be impacting your recovery and they will help you to put a plan in place to combat this.
With headaches and migraines preventative work is key. Home exercises and lifestyle changes alongside manual therapy make a big difference and your osteopath will guide you through this.
If your osteopath feels that your headaches are not related to any structural cause they will refer you to your GP for further investigation and support.
Do I need a referral for osteopathic treatment?
No, you can book in for osteopathic assessment and treatment without any referral from your doctor.