Headaches: How physio can help you

Oct 15 2018

Headaches are often quite literally a pain in the neck. In fact, research suggests a significant proportion of headaches can be traced to neck issues.

Whether you experience minor but niggling headaches or miserable migraines, visiting a physiotherapist could be the key to identifying underlying causes and improving your quality of life.

Read on for expert advice from one of our Chartered Physiotherapists, Gianluca Magagna, including five ways a physio could treat your headaches.

The International Headache Society has classified over 200 varieties of headache, and the list is growing. Three of the most common types of headache are:

  • Cervicogenic Headaches – Originating from the cervical spine, these cause unilateral and moderate intensity of pain.
  • Tension-Type Headaches – Connected to muscle tension in the forehead, face and neck, these cause bilateral and mild to moderate pain.
  • Migraines – With a neuro-vascular cause, these can last 72 hours due to altered activity of the brainstem and nerve tissue. They normally lead to unilateral and pulsating pain, sensitivity to light and sound and sometimes nausea.

Physiotherapists can help identify and alleviate some of the common issues that cause headaches. Evidence strongly supports physiotherapy intervention for all three forms of headache mentioned above. During your initial physio appointment, the goal will be to identify your specific type of headache and understand if your neck is a contributing factor. To do this, they will consider:

  • Pain distribution
  • Intensity and quality of pain
  • Chronicity (length of time you’ve suffered headaches)
  • Regularity of episodes
  • Presence or absence of light and sound sensitivity
So, how can we help you? Here are five ways a physio could treat your headaches:
  • Improving neck mobility –Specific manual therapy techniques will improve upper neck joint mobility. Release and massage of the tight muscle soft tissue that can contribute to headache pain will provide relief.
  • Perfecting posture – Headaches and migraines can be improved by correcting poor posture which strains your back and neck muscles. A physiotherapist will provide expert advice on ideal posture to combat this risk.
  • Pillow assessment – A cervical pillow assessment can help ensure that you have the proper pillow to obtain and maintain an optimal neck position when sleeping.
  • Workstation ergonomics – Small, individualised adjustments to workstations can be extremely beneficial in reducing the frequency and severity of neck related headaches. A physiotherapist can suggest adaptations to your workplace posture, screen position, desk height, chair type and more.
  • Strengthening homework – A physiotherapist can prescribe a set of exercises to tackle the root cause of your headaches. These exercises will play an important role in a longer-term strategy for managing symptoms.