Everyone has or will at some point in time experience the unpleasantness, that is having a headache. They range from the mild occasional headache to very frequent intense headaches or migraines.

There are many types of headaches, the most common in adults being tension headaches, migraines, and headaches caused by eye strain and sinus problems.

Tension headaches present as a tight band of pressure and tightness around the neck and head, including the temporal region. They are sometimes called ‘cervicogenic’ headaches as they originate from the cervical spine area. Tension headaches are linked to increased emotional stress or prolonged postural strain.

Migraines typically start with some type of visual disturbance or aura. This leads to intense throbbing and sharp pain, typically made worse by movement and often accompanied by nausea, dizziness and sensitivity to light. Migraines may be triggered by exercise, alcohol, travel and caffeine.

Cluster headaches present as sudden, brief (usually up to 90 minutes), intense pain centred around one eye and often combined with redness, tearing, sweating and a runny nose.

Sinus headaches are associated with sinus irritation or infections which cause the sinus membranes to swell and block the nose channels. This results in increased pressure and compression of the facial nerve which can cause pain at front of the head and face between the eyes and on either side of the nose.

Common causes of headaches and migraines include:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Sinus irritation
  • Sensitivities or allergies
  • Lack of sleep
  • A head injury
  • Colds and flu.

The stresses of modern life cause many to hold increasing levels of muscle tension in the upper back, shoulders, and neck. In some, this triggers a cervicogenic headache which is a headache referred from the neck structures.

Bodily strain resulting from incorrect sleeping position and/or poor posture or from extensive use of digital devices (cell phones, iPads, etc.) and prolonged periods in front of the television which puts strain on the eye are also problematic, especially in children and adolescents.

Osteopathic treatment can be invaluable in the alleviation of pain and musculo-skeletal tension experienced by patients and is considered an easy and timely intervention to improve patient wellbeing.

Osteopaths are skilled at diagnosing the type of headache or migraine the patient is experiencing and, where appropriate, make use of a variety of techniques to provide relief from headache and migraine symptoms.

These techniques include, but are not limited to:

  • Cervical soft tissue massage of the paraspinal tissues of the neck to relieve the spasms associated with tension headaches.
  • Occipital decompressiontypically works well for migraines and involves stretching the paraspinal tissues at the base of the occiput (bone at the back of the head at the top of the neck) using the fingertips.
  • Myofascial unwindingis a technique used to unwind the tissues encasing muscles in spasm.
  • Spinal Manipulation Therapy (SMT)– small joint releases can be created to relieve muscle tension, help the spine move more segmentally and relieve the patient of pain.