What are headaches?
“Headaches are often caused by disorders of the neck or physical and emotional tension. Physiotherapists can successfully treat headaches originating from the neck or soft tissues and show you how to prevent the pain recurring.” (APA Website)
Headaches can generally be classified into three different types:
- Tension headaches
- Cervicogenic headaches
Tension headaches are the most common and account for around 80-90% of all headaches. Migraines are less common but are usually more severe in nature and can cause nausea, dizziness, and sensitivity to light and/or noise. Cervicogenic headaches have been estimated to affect around 14-18% of the population and are characterized by chronic hemi-cranial (one-sided) pain referred to the head from the cervical spine or the soft tissues within the neck. This latter type of headache responds very well to physiotherapy and other forms of manual therapy targeted at the neck and surrounding structures.
Common symptoms of cervicogenic headaches:
- Pain localised to the neck, back of head or temporal region
- Pain elicited by certain neck movements or sustained postures
- Neck muscular trigger points and tenderness to touch
- Increase in muscle tightness
Headaches can be extremely debilitating and can have a profound impact on people’s lives. Headache sufferers will often reduce their social activities and tend to lack concentration so may have a reduced work capacity. Productivity in the work place is certainly reduced as a result of headaches, which highlights the importance of early physiotherapy intervention to get symptoms under control.
What can Physiotherapy do to help?
Good quality evidence has shown that physiotherapy is very effective in relieving cervicogenic headaches. Treatment may include but is not limited to:
- Cervical joint mobilisations
- Soft tissue massage
- Neck musculature strengthening
- Dry needling or accupunture
- Postural correction
- Advice in regards to aggravating factors