Headaches are one of the most common causes of pain in Australia with recent studies suggesting every Australian will suffer from it at some stage of their life. With 2020 being a stressful year our osteopaths see many residents of Barwon Heads, Ocean Grove, and Armstrong Creek, and headaches are one of the most common complaints that we see present to the clinic. Our Osteopath Stacey Hall has put together this article to explain the type of headache we frequently see and how we can help. As there are many different types of headache the diagnosis of a cervicogenic headache, or a headache originating from the structures in the neck, may be misdiagnosed. This is due to the fact it can present similarly to other headache types such as tension headache, migraine and hormonal headaches.
Cervicogenic Headaches are usually the result of strain or injury to structures of the neck such as the muscles and joints (see figures below). While there may be a clear trigger for the onset of your headache, factors such as diet, environment, or hormonal cycles can become an issue when there is an increased sensitivity of the structures in the cervical spine.
Cervicogenic headaches are usually described as a constant dull ache which can occur on either one or both sides of the head. It can be described as a gripping or pulling feeling, or a band or tightness around the head. They usually start at the base of the skull at the back of the head and can refer over the top of the head to the temple area or behind the eyes. Cervicogenic headaches also gradually get worse over a period of time, and may be present for days, weeks and even months. Sometimes we see an obvious history of acute trauma, such as a whiplash injury or workplace or sporting injury.
At 13th Beach Health Services your practitioner will thoroughly assess your neck and headaches, asking specific questions which will rule out other causes of headaches. They will also examine the structures of your neck to determine whether these may be the source of your headache.
If the different structures in the neck are involved your practitioner may find:-
• Reproduction of head pain with pressure on specific structures in your neck
• Tight and painful joints and muscles in your neck
• A stiff mid and upper back as well as a forward head posture
• Reduced range of motion of joints in the upper neck
• Decreased strength in the deep muscles of the neck
Once your practitioner has diagnosed your headaches as coming from structures in the neck, treatment can start, which may include:-
• Mobilisation- movement of stiff joints will help to restore range of motion.
• Stretching- stretching of the neck and shoulder muscles can help to alleviate tightness causing headaches.
• Soft tissue techniques and massage – osteopaths use a number of different soft tissue techniques which can help to relieve tightness of the muscles of the neck and upper back.
• Postural advice- optimal trunk posture is important, without education regarding postural correction, cervicogenic headaches may linger for extended periods of time.
• Strengthening- advice and education to strengthen the deep neck muscles will help to restore normal muscle balance and take pressure off the head and neck.
• Stress relief and management- identifying and reducing the sources of stress is important as these factors can commonly lead to tension and tightness in the upper back and neck muscles.
• Dry needling- Dry needling involves placing very thin needles into specific muscle trigger points whichcan often be used as an effective way to alleviate headaches.
• Workplace and ergonomic advice- a desk at the wrong height, a poor chair or a badly set up computer can all contribute to poor posture and increased strain on structures in the neck. If you have any concerns regarding this you should read the recent article written by our Osteopath Phil Nash fro some useful tips
The good news is manual treatment can be very effective at relieving cervicogenic headaches! At 13th Beach Health Services we have a Headache Treatment Plan that ensures in most simple cases patients only need very few treatments to get full relief from cervicogenic headaches as long as factors such as posture and workplace ergonomics are addressed. If you suffer from headaches and would like more information on our Headache Treatment Plan please contact Stacey at our Barwon Heads clinic on 5254 2668 or book online by clicking the link below.