Headaches are often complicated and multifactorial complaints. Unless you bump your head, or drink too much, it can often be tricky to pinpoint an exact cause for your headache pain.
In 2016, globally, almost three billion individuals were estimated to have a headache disorder; almost 2 billion with a tension-type headache and just over 1 billion migraine sufferers[i]. Headache disorders are one of the most prevalent health issues globally, but have only been addressed as a public health concern since the early 2000’s. This is largely due to the fact that headaches tend to be intermittent in nature and generally not fatal. Headaches are, however, one of the most disabling health conditions worldwide1.
What the above means is that we have an enormous number of headache sufferers (4.9 million reported migraine sufferers in Australia in 2018[ii]) who may be feeling as though they don’t have a clear idea of what could be contributing to their pain.
It is for this exact reason that your Osteopath is so valuable in the diagnosis and treatment of headache type pain. In addition to hands on treatment, Osteopaths may provide valuable diagnostic reasoning, education & rehabilitation to aid in the reduction of signs and symptoms related to your headache.
Your Osteopath will take a thorough headache and past medical history, taking into account any known triggers, lifestyle factors which may be contributing and any treatments you may have tried in the past. They will then perform a full biomechanical assessment, followed by treatment which may include soft tissue releases of any muscles associated with your headache, joint articulation and a variety of other osteopathic techniques. This is usually followed by exercise prescription and any relevant education or information which you need to know.
Identifying some of the factors and triggers involved in your headache is an important first step in helping reduce your pain and arguable is one of the most important parts of reducing headache symptoms. There are many ranging and variable triggers for headaches such as food and alcohol, medication overuse, hormonal changes or tightness around the muscles of the neck, head and jaw etc.
For some people, headaches can be caused by a combination of triggers, which is why a thorough history conducted by your osteopath is so valuable. Musculoskeletal issues such as neck tightness, jaw clenching or a stiff upper back can be both a causative factor or a result of headache pain. Many patients report progressive neck stiffness leading to their usual headache pain, or following it. Releasing muscles and mobilizing joints can be incredibly helpful in either alleviating the headache pain itself, or aiding in reducing some of the concurrent muscle discomfort which can come along with your headache.
There are many lifestyle factors which can also contribute to headache pain. These can be different for every single person and often can be tricky to navigate when it comes to issues such as stress or sleep.
Additionally, headaches, due to their intermittent nature, can easily become persistent, meaning that there are many people who suffer from headaches for years. When this is the case, lifestyle factors such as stress or poor sleep quality can become triggers for your headaches. This is part of a longer, more complicated conversation about the role your brain plays in persistent pain which you can ask your Osteopath about.
If you feel that stress is a major factor in your headache, try some mindfulness exercises for 5-10 minutes daily for a period of a few weeks. Mindfulness and meditation based interventions have been proven to be effective in reducing headache intensity and there is some evidence on it’s effect on headache frequency as well[iii]. Mindfulness has also been shown to have positive effects on other potential headache triggers such as stress and anxiety
If you are a headache sufferer and you have questions, please feel free to reach out to us. We are always happy to have a chat and understand how complex and difficult some headache pains can be and how much they can impact your life. Let us help you MOVE THROUGH LIFE.
[i] GBD 2016 Headache Collaborators . Global, regional, and national burden of migraine and tension-type headache, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet Neurology. 1 Nov 2018; 17(11):954-976. doi: ?https://doi.org/10.1016/S1474-4422(18)30322-3.
[ii] Prevalence of headache and migraine in an Australian city- J. Heywood, T. Colgan, and C. Coffey- Journal of Clinical Neuroscience (1998) 5(4), 485.
[iii] Gu, Q., Hou, J. C., & Fang, X. M. (2018). Mindfulness Meditation for Primary Headache Pain: A Meta-Analysis. Chinese medical journal, 131(7), 829–838. doi:10.4103/0366-6999.228242