More than 10 million people in the UK get headaches, making them one of the most common health complaints, but most are easily treated with osteopathy.
Simple mechanical headaches often come from tightness at the base of the skull/ top of the spine. These “cervicogenic” or tension headaches are commonly borne from a combination of muscle tightness and poor joint motion and may even involve entrapment of certain nerves which when compressed can cause pain. These are often called stress headache and may even cause symptoms of dizziness. Manipulative osteopathy is a good way to relax this tightness and ease the pain.
Causes of Headache
Tension headaches are the most common, and what we think of as normal everyday headaches.
They are referred to as Cervico-genic headaches and feel like a dull ache with constant pressure around the front, top and sides of the head as if a rubber band has been stretched around it and sometimes cause headache behind the eyes.
Stress is one cause, but there are lots of others, including drinking too much alcohol, not getting enough sleep, depression, skipping meals and becoming dehydrated.
Migraines are less common. If a severe headache is recurrent and disabling to the point of stopping you from carrying on with daily life, it may be a migraine.
People describe migraines as a pounding or throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head.
Most people treat their migraines successfully with over-the-counter medication. If they’re severe, however, you may need stronger migraine-specific medication that is only available on prescription from a doctor.
Cluster headaches are another type of primary headache. These excruciatingly painful headaches cause an intense pain around one eye. They're rare and are called cluster headaches because they happen in clusters for a month or two at a time around the same time of year and can feel like constant or persistent headache.
Pharmacy medications don't ease the symptoms of a cluster headache, but a doctor can prescribe specific treatments to ease the pain.
These include headaches that come on after drinking too much alcohol or after a head injury or concussion.
You may also get a headache when you’ve had:
• A cold
• The flu
• An allergic reaction
Medication and painkiller headaches
Some headaches are a side effect of taking a particular medication and frequent headaches can also be caused by taking too many painkillers.
Headaches in women are often caused by hormones, and many women notice a link with their periods. The Pill, the menopause and pregnancy are also potential triggers.
Temporo-mandibular joint disorders (Jaw pain)
Headaches are one of the symptoms of temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) disorders which affect the joint between the lower jaw and the base of the skull.
It has been estimated that approximately 20-30% of the adult population will experience a TMJ disorder at some point.
Osteopathy can help successfully treat these TMJ dysfunctions.
Giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis)
Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is a condition in which medium and large arteries, usually in the head and neck, become inflamed. It usually affects adults over 60 years old.
Giant cell arteritis should be regarded as a medical emergency and you should contact your GP immediately if you suddenly develop:
• a severe headache
• jaw pain when eating
• blurred or double vision
• a sore scalp
Other secondary causes of headache may originate from ears, eyes or teeth.
The osteopath will consider your symptoms, perform an examination to ascertain the cause of your headache to make a clinical diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan.
Treatment: Osteopathy can provide therapeutic rehabilitation of tension or cervico-genic headaches. A review of the medical literature suggests that the efficacy of physical treatment for the long-term prevention and control of headaches appears greatest in patients who are involved in ongoing exercise and physical conditioning programmes. Therefore, treatment plans will pair manual hands on osteopathic treatment with rehabilitation exercise programmes for the best possible outcomes.
Osteopathic manipulative techniques such as joint mobilisations, medical acupuncture, and muscle energy techniques are particularly well suited for the management of cervicogenic headache. Joint manipulation can be carefully used in some patients, which have shown great effect. Physical treatment techniques used by your osteopath are generally better tolerated when initiated with gentle muscle stretching and manual cervical traction.
The aim of this is to improve cervical mobility and encourage better posture, which should help to remove the factors that contribute to your headaches. Therapy can be then be slowly advanced as tolerated. Muscular trigger points are discreet hyperirritable regions of contracted muscle that have a lowered pain threshold and refer pain to distant sites in predictable and reproducible patterns. Treatment of these areas can aid therapeutic management of referred head or face pain from cervical muscular sources.