Headache is one of the most common illnesses in Australia, with around 15 per cent of us taking painkillers for a headache at any given time. Because headaches are so common, most people think they are a normal part of life. However, a persistent headache is a sign that something is wrong. The continual use of pain medication to combat headaches is akin to removing the warning light that alerts you to a problem in your car! Medication doesn’t solve your headache, it simply offers a short term solution to dull the pain.
Tension headaches and migraine are the most common forms of headache and cluster headaches are most rare. Other types of headache include sinus headache, rebound headache and exertion headache.
Headaches can result due to a variety of reasons including stress, poor posture, accidents, medications, environmental factors such as strong odours & pollution and dietary irregularities.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked cause of migraine and tension headache is due to nerve irritation in the upper neck caused by poorly functioning spinal joints – cervicogenic headaches. Since the nerves of the upper neck supply areas of the scalp and face, irritation to these nerves can and often lead to headache.
Cervicogenic headaches can easily be distinguished from other types of headache by a physiotherapist, and treatment to relief symptoms is usually fast extremely effective and fast.
By carefully restoring proper movement to the spinal joints of the neck, your physiotherapist is able to significantly reduce the presence of nerve irritation and muscle tension helping to alleviate the cause of your headaches. Commonly people with Cervicogenic headache often have weakened postural muscles through their upper back and shoulder blade region, which is akin to weakened ‘core’ muscles in the lower abdomen in people with low back pain. Additionally many headache sufferers will have increased tension through jaw and temporal muscles of the skull, which are easily assessed and treated.
Your physio can then teach you exercises to improve the endurance and strength of your postural muscles, or stretches to relieve tight muscles, which will help to prevent headaches in the future. Sometimes this preventative stage can take much longer than the relief treatment itself, as your body needs to relearn good postures and you in turn become more aware of how you are moving, sitting or standing.