It might surprise you that a physiotherapist can help you with certain types of headache!
Headaches are one of the most common yet debilitating pain that many feel frustrated about. Many are familiar with the term “Migraine”, but not all headache are migraines! Cervicogenic headache is the most common type of headache that a physiotherapist can treat.
Cervicogenic headache is caused by tightness, tension, and/or stiffness from the neck, especially in the upper cervical(neck) joints.
Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for:
Pain that originates from the neck, radiating to the back of the head, forehead, behind the eyes and ears, or face
Triggered by neck movements, and/or prolonged positioning in an awkward or uncomfortable neck posture
Headache tends to be on one side of the head and rarely changes side
Limited neck range and movements
Tight and tensioned neck muscles
Causes of cervicogenic headaches
Prolonged sitting in an incorrect posture
Whiplash, car accident, concussion
What to expect in a physiotherapy session
Assessment to determine the source of the headache
Manual therapy (soft tissue release, joint mobilizations)
Strengthening exercises for the neck and shoulder region
Tips for managing cervicogenic headaches on your own
Other treatment methods (requires a visit to the GP or Specialist)
Simple analgesics (paracetamol, NSAIDs, COX-2 inhibitors)
Other medications like Muscle relaxants, or tricyclic antidepressants
Trigger point injections
Botulinum toxin (Botox)
Surgical interventions (often only provide temporary relief with the possibility of longer intensification of pain)
What about Migraines?
Migraines are chronic episodic headache, that appears to be influenced by genetics and environmental factors. They may be caused by changes to the brainstem and its interaction with the trigeminal nerve, and imbalances in brain chemicals.
Signs and symptoms
Typically last 4 to 72 hours
May be severe
Often but not always one-sided throbbing pain
Worse with exertion
May be accompanied by nausea; sensitivity to light, sound, or odours
Hormonal changes in women
Food, and/or food additives
Sensory stimuli – bright lights, loud sounds, strong smells
Changes in wake-sleep pattern
Medications – oral contraceptives and vasodilators
Symptomatic treatment – for immediate relief of pain, to be taken when symptoms occur
Prophylactic treatment – to prevent or reduce the frequency of headache, usually taken regularly whether symptoms are present or not
Regular and balanced diet
Moderate amount of routine exercise
Adequate amount of water
Reduce caffeine, alcohol intake
Avoid known triggers
Not all headaches are migraines, and there are other common types of headaches such as cluster headache, tension headache, sinus headache. If you suspect that you are suffering from cervicogenic headache, seeking help from a physiotherapist can be beneficial. However, if you are uncertain about the type of headache that you have, a physiotherapist can assist in referring you to the right healthcare professional.