How can physiotherapists help with headaches?
You might be surprised to learn that the answer is, quite possibly, yes! It just depends on what type of headache you’re experiencing - and there are a lot more than you might think!
What different types of headache are there?
There are more than 150 types of headache! What type you’re experiencing depends on the cause, the symptoms, the location and how often they occur.
Some of the most common headaches include:
● Tension headache
Usually caused by tension in the muscles of the shoulders, neck or face, tension headaches usually give a sensation of pressure all the way around the head, and can cause nausea and light sensitivity.
● Sinus headache
These headaches are usually felt as deep, constant pain in your forehead, as well as your cheekbones and/or the bridge of your nose. Caused by sinus infections, they’re usually accompanied by symptoms like a runny nose, blocked ears, swelling in the face, fever and sinus pain.
When you become dehydrated, the brain temporarily contracts because of the lack of fluid, causing it to pull away from the skull. Which hurts. The pain can usually be felt all over the head and can be anything from a dull ache to an intense throbbing. So, keep up your water intake.
● Cervicogenic headaches
These are caused by pain referred from tissues in the neck. They usually cause pain on one side of the head, from the base of the skull to the temple of the eye, and are aggravated by neck movements.
If you’ve ever had a migraine, you’ll know it’s way beyond a standard headache. As well as a pounding, throbbing pain in the head, sufferers can experience vision disturbances, sensitivity to light, noise and/or smells, nausea or vomiting, dizziness or stomach pain. Migraines can last for several hours, or even days.
● Cluster headaches
Causing intense burning or piercing pain behind or around one eye, cluster headaches can be so overwhelming that sufferers can’t sit still during one. They may cause swelling, redness or tears in the eye affected, and nasal congestion on that side. They’re called cluster headaches because they occur in groups - one to four times per day (lasting 15 minutes to three hours each time) during a cluster period, which can last from two weeks to three months.
What can you do to reduce headaches?
Depending on the type of headaches you are prone to, there are a few things you can do to try to reduce the frequency and intensity:
● Drink plenty of water
● Make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep
● Try to reduce your stress levels and make time for relaxation
● Don’t skip meals and make sure to eat regular, healthy snacks to maintain your blood sugar levels
● Notice if there are particular foods, drinks, smells or environmental factors (such as lighting conditions) that trigger headaches so that you can avoid these in future
● If you are sitting at a desk for long periods of time, stretch your neck, shoulder and back muscles regularly
● Warm up and cool down properly after exercise
How can a physiotherapist help?
The two main headaches that physiotherapists can help you with are tension headaches and cervicogenic headaches.
In the case of tension headaches, a physio will relax and unlock the muscles, releasing the tension that is causing the pain. They will also look at lifestyle factors that might be contributing to the problem, such as stress, and help you to manage these.
For cervicogenic headaches, the goal will be to address the neck issue at the root of the problem. This could involve manipulation, massage or mobilisation. They will likely teach you exercises to perform regularly, which will help to relieve the problem. Poor posture is a common cause of cervicogenic headaches, so your physio will also look at your posture and ask about your living/working space to address that problem.
1. WebMD. 2020. Headache Basics. [Onlinehttps://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/migraines-headaches-basics
2. Headache Australia. 2020. Headache types. [Onlinehttps://headacheaustralia.org.au/types-of-headaches/. [Accessed 19 Dec 2020]
Uploaded 28 January 2021