Headaches can occur for lots of reasons.
It may be difficult to know what type of headache you have and what is causing it however if headaches are recurrent or persistent you should be assessed by a qualified professional.
Your osteopath will take a detailed history of your headaches in order to determine the likely contributing factors, whether you are taking medication, potential triggers and the presence of other associated symptoms. Most headaches are not the result of a serious illness, however in some cases your osteopath may refer you to your GP.
Some headaches can be triggered by these common lifestyle factors (1), including:
- Alcohol, particularly red wine
- Certain foods
- Changes in sleep or lack of sleep
- Poor posture
- Eye strain
- Dehydration or skipped meals
Headaches in response to these factors can often be ameliorated by identifying and addressing the triggers. Applying self care measures to ensure that you are well hydrated, taking regular meals and getting adequate sleep, and paying attention to identify postural or stress related triggers can allow for self-management.
Tension-type headache is the most widespread headache disorder and is classified as a nonspecific headache. This means that it is not vascular or migrainous, is not related to organic disease, but may be related to tight muscles in the back of the neck, scalp and shoulders (2).
Recent international studies indicate that the average prevalence is approximately 40% which means that nearly 10 million Australians are likely to experience this kind of headache.
Symptoms of tension-type headache (3) may include:
- dull, persistent pain of varying intensity, usually felt on both sides of the head or neck
- a constant, tight, heavy or pressure sensation on or around the head
- tightness and tenderness of scalp, neck and shoulder muscles
- neck movements restricted by muscular stiffness and discomfort
- ache in the back
- recurrent and episodic pain that can last for minutes, hours, days, months or even years
- nausea and indigestion
- trouble concentrating and difficulty sleeping
- depression and anxiety
Headaches that are generated from the neck are called cervicogenic headache, which means that it is generated from the muscles, joints and nerves in the neck (4).
Osteopaths are trained to assess neck function and to screen for postural factors that can predispose to the development of neck related or tension type headache. Given that the cause of headaches is often multi-factorial, a quick fix is not always feasible. Treatment of the related tight and irritated structures can form part of an overall management plan, often in combination with postural advice, exercises, stress management and medication which may be prescribed by your GP.
- Mayo Clinic. (2018). Headache: Causes. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/headache/basics/causes/sym-20050800
- National Headache Foundation. (2019). Tension-Type Headache. Retrieved from https://headaches.org/2007/10/25/tension-type-headache/
- Headache Australia. (2018). Headache types. Retrieved from https://headacheaustralia.org.au/headachetypes/tension-type-headache/
- WebMD Medical Reference. (2018). Cervicogenic Headache. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/migraines-headaches/cervicogenic-headache-facts_#1