Headaches are usually characterised by a dull ache, whilst migraines are more intense. Discomfort may range from being a minor irritation that slows you down during your day at work to a disabling pain that knocks you out. Symptoms can vary anywhere from a dull aching pain in the head, pressure or pain in the front, top or side of the head, and eye tension. Migraines are typically confined to one side of the head, while headaches are felt throughout the scalp or forehead. When a person is experiencing a severe headache or a migraine, they will often have sensitivity to light or noise, become lightheaded, and nauseous. Headaches and migraines can contribute to other issues including fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, dizziness, sleep disturbances, impaired decision making, disturbed concentration and behavioural issues.
The first step to any effective migraine treatment is an appropriate diagnosis. An osteopath is a health
care professional who treats neuromuscular skeletal disorders. Osteopaths will perform a comprehensive history and functional examination to determine whether the symptoms are coming from joint dysfunction of the spine or jaw or other surrounding structures like muscles and fascia. Because the cause of headaches and migraines could lie in areas of the body other than the head, an osteopathic solution lies in looking at what is happening in the whole body and not just at the site of pain. This holistic biomechanical approach can often reveal the cause of migraine, cluster and tension headaches. This osteopathic approach may also be able to determine if any lifestyles factors (e.g. poor posture, inappropriate exercise, lack of sleep, diet, alcohol, or stress) may be triggers for headaches or migraines. Fortunately, most headaches are not caused by serious illnesses, but in some cases they may require immediate medical attention and an osteopath will refer to appropriate medical professionals when needed for additional testing or care.
Many headaches have a mechanical component of the way the head and neck align that can trigger joint pressure that radiates into the head. As muscular tension increases, headaches can get worse and become chronic. Headaches commonly occur when spinal bones in the neck do not support the head properly. This will reduce your ability to turn your head and irritate nerves, affect muscles and even the blood supply to your brain. Stress and bad posture can easily lead to chronic migraines, which is why many people who work at a desk suffer from them. Headaches can also be caused by pain referred to the head either from bony structures or soft tissues (e.g. muscles) of the neck. This type of headache is referred to as cervicogenic, meaning originating from the cervical spine and/ or surrounding structures. This includes irritation and/or dysfunction of the cervical spine joints which can refer pain to the head. Treating joint dysfunction can help relieve pain and restore proper function.
Osteopaths work using hands-on manipulation of the whole body and spine. Irregularities or misalignments in parts of the body and spine can lead to muscle tension and irritate nerves controlling blood flow to the head (hence, the migraine). Osteopathic treatment may include subtle spinal manipulation, myofascial re- lease, soft tissue therapy, joint articulation and cranial osteopathy. Appropriate exercises may be prescribed to help correct your posture.
By receiving the gentle and effective treatment of osteopathic care, this may help reduce stress, tension and immobility from the spine and associated structures. This decrease in misalignments and tension may help to reduce or eliminate headaches. Osteopathic care is a natural approach for headache relief and helps those who suffer from tension headaches, migraine headaches, cluster headaches, stress headaches, anxiety related headaches, and neck pain related headaches or cervicogenic headaches. Relief may be possible so if you are tired of taking medications to mask headache pain, osteopathic care is a natural route well worth considering.
Written by: Dr Guy Ashburner Osteopath