The Story of Headaches
Headache is defined as “pain in the head or upper neck and may radiate to the face and around the eyes”. It is amazing how common headache is in our community.
A Melbourne study showed that:
- 87% of the people experience headache every year
- Females are 3 times more likely to suffer from migraine
- Most commonly people use simple pain killers to treat their headaches
- Headache and migraine are common disorders in Australia, and migraineurs may not regularly seek professional advice regarding treatment
Many of us are unaware but one common cause of headaches is stiffness in the upper joints of the neck. This may be associated with pain in the neck region but often pain is referred from the neck and felt only in the head causing confusion for patients.
Often neck headaches arise from prolonged poor postures particularly associated with use of computers and sitting at desks.
Some of the following may point to a headache coming from your neck:
- Pain that radiates from the back to the front of your head
- Pain brought on or worsened by neck movements or prolonged postures
- Pain which always feels worse on the same side of your head
- When pressure to the base of the skull eases the pain
- Headache which persists after your doctor has checked for other causes
Assessment of headaches
A subjective examination involves asking questions about the nature and origins of the headache to give clues about exactly which joints are involved.
A physical examination assesses the neck movements and the more specific joint movements in the upper neck. By carefully assessing the upper neck motion we are able clarify the actual joint and tissues that are the primary cause of the headache. Being precise in this examination is the key to successfully treating the headache from its origin.
By doing this we are able to treat the patient very specifically and clearly assess the effect of their treatment by assessing the changing symptoms.
Management of Headaches
Treatment of headaches involves mobilising and stretching the joints that are implicated as the origin of the headache. This is a hands on technique and is done in varying positions that stretch the neck joints to their limits.
Successful treatment is assessed through the changing of symptoms within a session and between appointments.
The treatment is supported by:
- Posture correction and ergonomic advice
- Advice on pillows and sleeping postures
- Stretching exercises that help to maintain the improvement and prevent the pain recurring
The important thing to note is that there is a long term solution to neck related headaches and seeing a physiotherapist is the first step.
The patient history and physical examination provide the best means for determining the cause of secondary headaches. Therefore, it is extremely important that patients with severe headaches seek medical care and give their health care practitioner an opportunity to assess their condition.