How physiotherapy can cure headaches

Even though the majority of the population gets headaches at one time or another, most don’t realise that there are different types of headaches that can be associated with different causes. The most common type of headache and one that generally responds well to physiotherapy treatment is called a cervicogenic headache.

Stiff joints in the upper neck are the primary cause of cervicogenic headaches. Under ideal circumstances, joints are allowed to glide freely to provide pain-free movement of the neck. If a joint, surrounding ligaments or muscles are injured or irritated, the joints can become stiff and cause pain to be referred into areas of the head or around the eyes.

Here is a list of symptoms that are generally associated with this type of headache:

  • Constant and dull ache
  • Slow onset with an unclear cause
  • May be present for days, weeks or even months
  • Stiffness or restricted movement of the neck
  • Pain is worse on one side
  • Pain radiates from the back to the front of the head
  • Headache can be eased when pressure is applied at the base of the skull
  • Headache worsened by sustained postures or certain neck movements
  • Possible dizziness, light-headedness or nausea

Now to the big question, what can physiotherapy do to help?

Physiotherapists can help address some of the key contributing factors to the development of cervicogenic headaches. The first thing your physiotherapist may do is get you to answer a series of questions to understand and categorise the headache. This may involve looking at other medical conditions you have that may not seem related, as well as physical conditions and lifestyle questions.

Depending on what they find out from their research, there are a number of options they may then recommend. These can range from posture correction, avoiding the causes of headaches or acupuncture. TENS machines, yoga, as well as strength and stretching exercises may sound more like something used to treat a physical injury but can also help with headaches, depending on the root cause.

The major contributing factors to headaches include:

  • Poor posture
  • Stiffness of the joints in the neck and upper back
  • Muscle imbalances (muscle tightness + muscle weakness)
  • Previous neck trauma (ex: whiplash, sports injury)

In order to properly tackle some of these factors, a full assessment of the neck and upper back is always carried out to provide an accurate focus for the treatment.

Some of the treatment methods may include:

  • Joint Mobilisations:
    Passive movement techniques that aim to restore full pain-free joint range of motion and overall movement of the neck
  • Stretching:
    A regular stretching program is key to maintaining the flexibility of the neck muscles, which helps maximize function
  • Strengthening:
    Ongoing neck problems are often linked with weakness of the postural and supporting neck/back muscles (chin poke and rounded shoulders = weak postural muscles)
  • Massage/Trigger Point Release:
    Shortened muscles often have “trigger points” that can contribute to referred pain, relaxation or release of these tightened areas can help improve neck muscle function
  • Modalities:
    Heat, TENS, IFC (Interferential Current) or EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation) can often be used in conjunction with manual techniques to help relieve some pain and muscle tension

Tips on how to manage a headache on your own:

  • Improve your posture while standing & sitting at work, home and even while driving
  • Sit/stand up straight
  • Pull the shoulders back and down
  • Tuck your chin back slightly
  • Tuck your belly in
  • Stretch out those muscles!
  • Stretches should be held for AT LEAST 30 seconds (a minute is even better) and done several times throughout the day. Do not hold your breath during stretches, allow your body to relax and breathe normally. Go just far enough so that you feel a stretch…no pain
  • Keep hydrated!
  • Attempt to better manage your own daily stresses, easier said than done, we know.

Just remember, if you’re experiencing headaches, you shouldn’t have to just ‘deal with it’.

Hopefully, we can help!

Call PCA today on 0813 028 0496

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