Headaches are a very common condition that affects many of us. At any one time, about 15% of Australians are taking pain relief to reduce headaches symptoms[i].
Headaches range in severity from discomfort so debilitating that you must lay down. It is always important to make sure that the headache is not the result of an underlying serious medical condition. The cause of persistent headaches needs to be resolved by identifying the cause and correcting the issue. An osteopath is trained to identify problems in the body’s muscles, joints, tissues and is skilled at identifying the causes of many types of headaches. When the underlying cause is not clear osteopaths can refer for further investigation.
Common headaches that I have seen in the clinic are: -
Tension in the forehead
Tension in the forehead
There is no formal medical condition to describe these symptoms, but people may be aware of low level tightness at the front of their head and also identify they have an atypical “short fuse“ they seen to be easily upset and quickly change their demeanour. It may occur for a few hours or last for an extended period.
What you feel: Physically you feel tension across the top of your face that may even affect the sinus area. I have had patients reported to me that they have responded to a situation with a terse verbal reply and then think to themselves "Where did that reply come from, it's not like me to say that?
What is happening: The frontal part of the brain controls our personality and ability to communicate. There is a condition called Hypofrontality where a decrease in blood flow to the frontal lobe causes several neurological medical conditions which cause mood disturbances[ii]. I know when there is tightness in the body there is a decrease in blood flow. My thinking is that if the forehead is tight then it's plausible that the frontal lobe of the brain behind it would also have some increased tension, not enough to cause a medical condition but it may play a role in shifting our mood.
The most common headache is a Cervicogenic headache which is attributed to musculoskeletal dysfunction in the upper spine and muscle imbalance occurring in the neck[v].
What you feel: Usually, these headaches are only on one side. They start often with a dull ache in the neck and radiate up into the back of the head, over the side of the head through the temples, and above the eyes. The level of pain at the start can be mild but get worse the longer it is not treated. People report their neck being stiff and may find their headache is aggravated by certain postures ie working on the computer, driving, texting or reading books.
What is happening: Although the pain is felt in the head the cause is in the neck. When the joints in the neck are inflamed or not moving normally, they can refer pain into the head. Dysfunction in the joints can be attributed to muscle imbalance due to poor posture or unresolved trauma like whiplash or neck injuries.
How I might treat this. By finding dysfunctional regions of the neck and treating them with gentle osteopathic techniques. It may be necessary to address postural issues to reduce the strain placed on the neck. Sometimes exercises are given to help change the posture.
Migraines are very common and affect 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men[vi]. Frequently, the onset of migraines triggered by puberty. There are many subtypes of migraine all have a wide range of symptoms and severity affecting their suffers differently.
What you feel: About a third of migraine suffers get warning signs, 5 minutes to an hour before the main migraine starts[vii]. These can be changes in vision (ie flashing lights, zigzag patterns, or blind spots), tingling in the arms or the face, sometimes you can feel off balance[vii]. The main symptom of a migraine is an intense headache usually only on one side of the head, often with a throbbing or pounding sensation. A lot of people have a sensitivity to light or sound and want a dark quiet room. Feeling sick and a need to vomit are also common experiences. The migraine can last 4 hours to 3 days[vii]. Once the headache has gone, people feel washed out and it can take a day or two for them to feel normal again. However, there are various types of migraines and each sufferer can experience different symptoms. Sometimes there is no headache with the migraine.
What is happening: The exact cause of migraines is unknown, but it is thought it is the result of temporary changes in the blood vessels, nerves, and chemicals of the brain[vii]. Some people relate the onset of a migraine to certain foods or drinks, emotional triggers, stress and some women link it to their menstrual cycle.
How we might treat this. There is no cure for migraines but with treatment, the aim is to reduce the frequency of migraines. From a cranial osteopathic viewpoint, it is critical to ensure the bones of the skull are moving correctly 3,4. Also, an osteopath will work to minimise the tension in the neck and shoulders.