Headaches

Headaches are a common complaint which most of us are likely to have experienced at some stage in our lives. The causes of headaches are as varied as their presentation and some of these causes we may be able to help. There are 3 main types of headache; tension, migraine and cervicogenic.

A tension headache is often said to be like a tight band around the head, often covering the eyes too. This is a common type of headache, which may build up over a period of time and last weeks or months. Symptoms vary from mild to severe and the causer is thought to be the small muscles at the base of the skull, which when tight, can affect blood flow and nerve function. The cause of this tension build up may be trauma, poor posture, stress, depression and jaw problems.

The role of the osteopath is to reduce the tension in the neck, around the head and the jaw and to help you to improve posture and aid relaxation.

Commonly migraine headaches will be one-sided, thumping, throbbing headaches. They are accompanied often by visual disturbance and nausea, sensitivity to light, noise and smells. In some cases they can lead to numbness and loss of strength down one side of the body, along with poor concentration and coordination. The causes for migraine are as varied as the presentations of them, from stress, sleep deprivation, food triggers, hormones and familial history.

Osteopathic treatment may help some migraine sufferers, most likely those where an inability to relax and neck dysfunction are strong causal factors.

Studies in 1995 of 218 patients with migraine found that Amitriptyline (a well-established effective drug for migraine) reduced headache scores by 24% at a four week follow-up while spinal manipulation reduced the score by 42%. (Source: JMPT, Boline DC, Kassam PhD et al, 1995)

This headache arises due to problems in the neck. There are connections between the brain and spinal cord and the muscles and ligaments of the upper neck. When irritated these structures can cause pain in the back of the head and neck. Patients with this type of headache tend to complain of pain and stiffness in the neck alongside headache. They can be a result of wear and tear in the neck, whiplash, poor posture and generally poor spinal mechanics.

Osteopaths will work to improve the mechanics, lessen strain on the neck and work with you to improve posture and aid relaxation and wellbeing.

For any persistent head pain which you are worried about, your GP should be your first port of call. This is especially the case if your headache follows any blow to the head or appears suddenly and severely with visual disturbance. If the headache is ‘nothing like you have experienced before’, or is sudden and severe, please seek medical advice prior to osteopathic treatment.

*Effectiveness of manual therapies: the UK evidence report. Osteopathy 2010, 18:3 doi:10.1186/1746-1340-18-3 Article URL http://www.chiroandosteo.com/content/18/1/3

Acupuncture may also assist the symptoms of tension and migraine headache.