Where’s your head at?
Headaches, Migraines and Physiotherapy.
Many of us experience headaches during our lifetime, it is one of the most common ailments that we as a society face. Headaches can range from being just nagging and frustrating, to debilitating – resulting in time off study, work, and affecting the things we love to do. Sometimes there are simple causes, perhaps we should have gone to bed a little earlier, drank more water, or perhaps had a little less red wine. There could seem to be no cause at all, or perhaps more serious causes such as a head injury or a motor vehicle accident. There are many different types of headaches and Physiotherapists play an important role in the treatment and management of this condition.
There are many different classifications (hundreds!) of headaches, however the most common types are:
There are distinct characteristics of how these headaches present, and by having a detailed examination at the clinic we can establish how best to treat your symptoms. Also, importantly we can assess you to ensure that you aren’t one of the unlucky few whose headache could be a warning sign of something more serious going on – in which case we would refer you on.
So what would a Physiotherapist do for my headache?
We have a lot of different Physio’s at RHP all with different backgrounds, experience and knowledge – however as a group we are very interested in the body as a whole and how simple things like small changes in the way you may be walking, or sitting can affect your body. To successfully treat your headache, we would narrow down what the cause of your headache is by looking at the “whole picture”. We know that the neck is a major cause of headaches and migraines, so we would spend time looking at the muscles and joints in your neck. But in order to be successful at stopping the frequency and intensity of your headaches, we would need to gain an appreciation for WHY we are seeing changes in these structures and so may treat other areas as well.
The neck plays a very important role in the production of headaches and migraines. Stress, postural overload, and trauma can lead to the build-up of tension or overuse of muscles in the neck which can then cause referral of pain into the head, face and down the neck. In the top of the neck, are three very important joints C1, C2 & C3. These joints are closely related to your brain stem which can be likened to a central computer hub – there is a lot of information coming in and out of this segment. If irritated, these neck structures feed pain signals into upper neck nerves, and from there the irritation feeds into the brainstem, which then transmits those signals up into the head and face – activating this pathway can also result in the feelings of nausea, dizziness and a fullness in the ears.
One technique that I personally have found very effective in the treatment of headaches and migraines is the application of the Dean Watson method, a physiotherapist who has decades of specialisation in this area and who has found through his own clinical experience and research that the alignment of the top three joints in the neck directly relate to headaches and migraines. Some of the treatment techniques involve releasing the muscles in your neck, and looking at the alignment of these vertebrae and using techniques to firstly bring on your symptoms (to confirm where your symptoms are coming from!) and holding this technique while your symptoms fade away. By doing this, we can alter the sensitivity of that “central hub” of information in your brain stem and decrease your symptoms. Importantly, after your Physio session would be exercises to do at home to maintain good posture and form, as well as help to fix the causes of the headache whether that be tight muscles, weak muscles, poor posture or alignment.
Some simple tips for those headache sufferers is to firstly look at your posture at work (or at home), often changing your desk set-up can reduce the load on those neck muscles and joints. Drink plenty of water, try to fit in some gentle exercise into your day, have a look at your diet and cut out anything that may be a trigger – that 4th coffee, that sugary treat for instance. And to come in and get assessed as you may be amazed at how effective Physiotherapy can be for your headaches, even if you are a long-term sufferer. This can be a debilitating condition, and we at RHP Physiotherapy are dedicated to giving you the best quality of care to get you to function the best that you can, as pain-free as possible.