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Most of us will experience a headache at some point. For some, it’s a rare event that lasts only briefly. For others, it can be a regular occurrence that impacts upon almost every aspect of life. Luckily, physiotherapists can help identify and alleviate some of the common issues that cause headaches.
Earlier this year, I attended a three-day headache course in Sydney. Run by the Watson Headache Institute and featuring international lecturer Dean Watson, the workshops focussed on ‘the Role of C1-3 Cervical Afferents in Primary Headaches’. This approach is recognised as a scientifically researched method of treatment and skilled assessment.
Given that headaches are such a common issue, I thought I’d share some key learnings and highlight the ways in which a physiotherapist can help sufferers. Approximately one in nine Australians will suffer from a migraine at some point in their lives, and women are twice as likely to be affected. Tension-type headaches are even more common.Accurate diagnosis is an essential first step in the management of headaches. We need to determine if the neck, and in particular the upper neck joints and muscles, are playing a role in the symptoms. Recent headache research and science has lead us to believe that the upper neck can play a significant role in a wide variety of headaches, including both tension headaches and migraine.
Getting to know the history of your headache.
It’s important that we take the time to establish a comprehensive clinical history of every headache sufferer. This is the first step in confirming a diagnosis.Various types of headaches can behave very differently. In fact, the International Headache Society has classified over 200 varieties of headache, and the list is growing! As a result, it is important to check the small details involved in every individual presentation, including where exactly in the head or face the headache is experienced, how severe the symptoms are, and how certain foods, exercise or stress can trigger a headache. We work closely with specialist headache and vestibular physiotherapists, and GPs. We can also refer you on to see a Neurologist where appropriate.
Once we accurately confirm that the neck plays a role in your headache or migraine, physiotherapists can provide effective treatment.
We aim to develop a management plan to fit your work, hobbies and family commitments. Education plays a really important role in this management. From my experience, many people arrive to our clinic with limited knowledge of how to best respond to symptoms and reduce the severity of a headache. Learning how to respond to triggers and symptoms can be a great way of lessening the negative impact that headaches often cause.
During treatment, we aim to ensure that the small joints have optimal freedom of movement, without cracking or manipulating the neck. We perform release and massage of the tight muscle soft tissue that often contributes to pain.
For those who work in office spaces, we’ve found that relatively small, individualised adjustments to a workstation can be hugely beneficial in reducing the frequency and severity of neck related headaches.
Strengthening, in the form of exercise therapy and postural muscle training, can lead to longer-term success in the management of symptoms. As with everything we do, the approach involves treating the immediate issue, curing the symptoms to alleviate discomfort, and preventing the problem from recurring In future.
***If you’re interested in an assessment of your symptoms, or to learn more about the treatment and relief for headaches, get in touch with the team at Pure Physio today!