Migraines are the number three cause of disability worldwide behind depression and back pain.
They affect one in four women worldwide (one in seven altogether). Before puberty it’s mostly boys that suffer and after puberty girls and women are affected more, peaking between 25 and 55 years of age.
This month I’ll be looking at headaches, what causes them, and how they can be relieved.
For some people, headaches are just a minor inconvenience, for others they can be utterly debilitating, condemning you to a dark, quiet room for hours, and sometimes even days.
The trouble is that successfully diagnosing a headache is complicated, because over 130 distinct disorders have been identified along with over 300 triggers, which makes a headache almost as unique as the individual experiencing them.
Unfortunately, you can simultaneously suffer one, two or more types of headache or migraine at the same time, with one causing, or overlap with another. Known as mixed or multi-source headaches these can take longer to resolve as I, as your therapist, work through treating the different causes.
For example, a dysfunctional painful neck can cause an increase in surrounding muscle spasm, which can increase your blood pressure. In this scenario, you could have a cervicogenic (neck) headache, with a tension headache and/or a resultant migraine!
Types & Causes of Headaches
The most commonly diagnosed headaches are:
- Migraines (12%)
- Tension headache (75%)
- Cervicogenic headache (originating from the neck) (18%)
- Sinus headaches
Our bodies are well designed and to help manage headaches and migraines then the lifestyle choices we make can help or hinder us, such as:
- Hydration – are you drinking enough?
- Stress management
- Alcohol and/or Caffeine – limit or avoid
- Certain foods or skipping meals
- Sleep hygiene – are you getting consistent sleep?
- Exercise – regularly
- Hormonal influences – avoiding xenoestrogens
The Good News
If you suffer from headaches on a regular basis, there is some good news, because two of the most common headaches, tension-type headaches and cervicogenic headaches (which originate from musculoskeletal issues in and around the neck) can be significantly improved, and even cured by physical therapy, both in the short term, as well as the long term.
There is a robust body of research and clinical evidence, showing that physical therapy can be an extremely effective treatment for certain types of headache. [source]
Manual, hands-on therapy, which manipulates or mobilises your neck can be hugely beneficial in eliminating your headache; or at least reducing the intensity and duration of the headache.
Soft tissue work including trigger point therapy, reflexology and remedial massage, can be effective in relieving spasms in the head and neck muscles which may be contributing to your headache. Massage has also been shown to help people cope better during headache episodes, reducing the associated stress and anxiety.
In addition, sustained posture and repetitive movements in your daily life, have also been shown to increase the risk of experiencing headaches as they can cause muscle imbalances, muscle weakness and strain the ligaments and soft tissues in the joints of your neck. In these cases corrective exercises to strengthen weak muscles and stretch tight muscles can be extremely effective.
- How to reduce your risk of suffering from a particular headache type in future
- What treatments and strategies have been proven to manage each type of headache
- How to reduce the risk of a headache occurring in the future