Headaches are a common ailment, that can be work-related, stress-related or ones that just come and go. Physiotherapy can be a very effective treatment to help alleviate headaches.
When people get headaches, many will say "I've got a migraine" but a lot of the time these headaches are not migraines at all. Migraines are thought to be related to blood vessels in the brain dilating or constricting for no apparent reason and this can give rise to headaches. Along with the headaches, other symptoms indicating a migraine may include nausea, light sensitivity, visual disturbances and other weird symptoms.
The treatment for this headache is rest in a dark room and prescription medication. Physiotherapy will help if a component of this headache is stiffnes of the joints and muscle spasm around the upper cervical spine.
The more common types of headaches are tension headaches and cervicogenic headaches. Tension headaches are very common in those individuals who are experiencing stress and are caused by structures surrounding the upper back, neck and shoulders being tense. Pain is felt in the head through tight muscles and joints tugging at the nerves that detect sensation from the head. The nerves high up in the neck as well as in the spinal cord can contibute to headaches felt around the eyes, ears, face, occipital area as well as general headaches.
This type of headache can be treated very effectively by physiotherapy and self-management.
A cervicogenic headache is a syndrome characterised by a one-sided headache, referred by either bony structures or soft tissues in the neck.
On examination, sufferers tend to have reduced neck range of motion, sore and tender neck muscles, stiff joints and poor motor control of the deep neck flexors. It is important that you are assessed by a physiotherapist in order to determine which type of headache you may have.
Treatment of headaches by a physiotherapist may include some of the following techniques: manual mobilisation or manipulation, massage, postural correction, electrotherapy modalities, traction, dry needling, acupuncture, advice regarding lifestyle and exercise, etc.
There is strong evidence which shows the effectiveness of physiotherapy intervention in the management of headaches. It has been shown that a simple incorporation of manipulative and exercise therapy spanning over a 6 week period has the ability to reduce both the frequency and intensity of tension or cervicogenic headaches. The most important outcomes however are that these benefits are maintained in the long term and do not return once the treatment has ceased.