This month I’m going to talk about the main causes of headaches and how osteopathy can help. Most people suffer with a headache at some point in their life. Thankfully for most of us these episodes tend to be relatively short lived. However, for some people headaches can become a chronic condition, which cause debilitating pain.
What is a headache?
AHeadache is defined as pain in the head that is located above the eyes or the ears, behind the head (occipital), or in the back of the upper neck. Headaches have many causes.
What are the causes of headaches?
There are a variety of causes, including those caused by tension in the muscles, migraines, eye strain, sinus congestion, pre-menstrual syndrome, hypertension or in severe but rare cases, tumours or meningitis. Research has shown that about 90% of headaches are caused by muscle tension or migraines. The head has a number of pain sensitive structures including the scalp, muscles, arteries, sinuses, ears and teeth. Often people think of the brain as being the cause of a headache, but interestingly the brain has very little sensitivity to pain. At the Osteopathic Clinic I take a detailed case history of the onset, duration and associated symptoms and do thorough clinical examinations to establish the cause of the headache.
Tension headaches are the most common form of headache. They relate to muscle tension in the back, neck and head, commonly caused by stress and posture. This is where osteopathy can offer most help. Many of the muscles of the head and neck have been shown to refer pain to other locations. For example tension at the base of the skull can produce pain locally as well as refer pain to the forehead and eye area. The tightened muscles and joint restrictions (from poor posture, stress, injury, etc) in the upper neck, contribute to reduced mobility and irritation of local nerves and blood vessels.
An osteopath will work gently with your body to improve joint mobility, reduce muscular and nerve irritation, improve blood supply and drainage to and from the head and neck. Your osteopath can also help prevent future headaches by giving you advice on posture, exercises and stretching.
Migraine headaches are more complex, with the main feature being a more severe headache. Other symptoms can include visual disturbance, tingling in the face, photosensitivity (sensitivity to light), strange smells, nausea and vomiting. The cause of migraine headaches is not fully understood. It is thought to be due to a combination of circulatory and neurological factors. Although the exact cause is unknown researchers have found a number of triggers, which often stimulate migraines. These can include: dietary, hormonal, structural and stress. Osteopaths can help identify and treat the structural triggers involved in causing migraines. Patients I have treated who suffer with migraine headaches often report a very pleasing reduction in severity and frequency of their headaches.