Headaches and Migraines

What Causes Headaches and How I Can Help

What causes headaches?

Many things can cause headaches – postural problems, substances and medications, stress, vascular conditions and more.

The most common causes of headache are

  • tension/stress/insomnia
  • migraine conditions
  • problems with the neck which cause muscular or neural compression
  • eye strain
  • repetitive poor postures
  • trauma

What is a cervicogenic headache?

Most people have never heard their headache or neck pain referred to as a cervicogenic headache (cervical headache, neck related headache, referred pain from the neck) but sometimes assume that they have migraines or cluster headaches. The term cervicogenic is used to describe pain in the head that originates in the spine, neck and upper shoulders.  This type of pain can be the result of whiplash, muscle trauma or neck injury from severe stress, poor posture or an accident.  Even working at a computer can trigger this type of head pain.

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I woke up pain free for the first time in twenty two years. No headache or stiffness in my neck. I can move my left arm freely and I feel great. You have made such a difference to my pain. Thank you so much. I feel like there can be a future without pain killers.

Almas Whitton

Diagnosis of headaches can be quite complicated as many symptoms overlap and they are not the same for everyone.  Cervicogenic headaches present differently in individuals; some are very severe and painful while others are minor annoyances.  Sometimes the pain is present in the head while others experience pain behind the eyes.  Pain often begins at the base of the neck then spreads upward and often (but not always) to both sides of the head. This is because the nerves responsible for the pain run along the inside of the skull from the base of the head, along the sides, and to the eye area.  The intensity varies and pain fluctuates from mild to medium to severe.  Cervicogenic headaches can be made worse by head or neck movement and the eye area is often tender.  Neck related headaches can sometimes be trickier to diagnose, however, as those who have headaches can sometimes have more than one type of headache.

Long term, a large number of sufferers experience total relief, and more than half of the rest find the pain and frequency reduced.  Often, postural adjustments can help reduce your chances of getting persistent headaches.

How can these headaches be treated?

If you frequently get a headache, neck pain or both you need not suffer – gentle treatment is available.  Treatment for this type of headache and neck pain includes stopping or decreasing contributing activity, manual therapy such as osteopathic treatment, certain exercises and relaxation techniques.  Treatment for headaches often includes sports massage to the muscles of the head and neck, gentle mobilisations of the neck and shoulder joints, and special neuromuscular techniques applied to the head, neck and face.  Gentle neural stretching, seating and sleeping posture adjustments and occasionally taping techniques may be used.

A few patients may require steroid injections or other medication.

NICE guidelines for the health services recently published information on how chronic over use of headache medicine can actually cause headaches.  If you frequently get a headache, neck pain or both you may get fast relief by seeking osteopathic care.

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