Headaches affect 47% of the global population on a regular basis. Some people suffer from them monthly, weekly and sometimes even daily, and the headache can range from being a nuisance to being completely debilitating, disrupting your ability to drive, work, concentrate, do daily chores or even stand upright. The most difficult thing about headaches is that there is so much variety between individuals, in terms of headache types, symptoms and triggers, it makes them very hard to diagnose
correctly, and therefore often treatments are unsuccessful.
According to the International Headache Society there are over 130 distinct disorders identified and over 300 causes of headaches. Fortunately, most of the common headaches can be identified and treated effectively if you know what to look for. One of the most common headaches generates from issues in the soft tissue structures around your neck, and your physical therapist is well-trained in not only being able to diagnose these types of headaches but also in treating them through soft tissue manipulation and being able to give you exercises to help strengthen weak muscles and prevent the headaches in the future.
Unfortunately, many people end up resorting to medications, home remedies and treatments, expensive examinations or investigations, costly changes to bedding and pillows and even visits to the dentist for gum guards to prevent clenching or teeth grinding. Sometimes we try and brush things off as an inevitable consequence of our ‘life’ be it your job, stress level, or the amount of time you spend sitting in front of a computer.
But living with headaches doesn’t have to be a case of ‘suck it up and deal with it’. There is a lot of research out there to support ways in which physical therapy can help you manage and prevent different types of
SHOULD YOU BE CONCERNED
ABOUT A HEADACHE?
In a small percentage of patients there is unfortunately a sinister cause of your head pain, which should be thoroughly investigated. There are ‘Red Flags’ which are important signs of a possible, more ominous, underlying condition (eg. aneurysm, meningitis, tumour etc.) which need urgent investigation. Fortunately, these are extremely rare occurrences, but if you
experience any of the following symptoms, please seek the advice of your doctor as soon as possible.
Headache ‘Red Flags’ include, any of the following characteristics:
l History a) Your worst ever headache or a different headache to your usual
b) A sudden change in the type or pattern/intensity of your headaches) c) History of cancer
d) During or following pregnancy
e) Headache at night or waking in the morning
f) Exertion triggers your headache (eg. exercise, cough, sneeze or sex)
g) Age is greater than 50 years
h) Despite treatment, your headache persists
l) Acute onset ie. comes on very quickly
j) Central nervous system findings (eg. weakness, memory loss, slurred speech)
k) HIV or other immune system compromise
l) Fever or other systemic symptoms (eg. unexplained weight loss, high
Fortunately, the vast majority of headaches do not require urgent medical investigation and should respond positively to treatment depending upon an accurate diagnosis.
The majority of headaches diagnosed are:
Cervicogenic headache (originating from the neck)
Followed by cluster and sinus headaches.
These are the most common headache causes and interestingly (or frustratingly), they can also co-exist. You can simultaneously suffer one, two or more types of headache or a migraine at the same time where one
may cause another or overlap with each other. These are known as mixed or multisource headaches and can take longer to resolve as your therapist works through treating the different causes. For example, a dysfunctional painful neck can cause an increase in surrounding muscle spasm,
which will increase your blood pressure. In this scenario, you could have a cervicogenic (neck) headache, with a tension headache and a resultant migraine!
I have included a self diagnosis chart below for you to decide what type of headache you suffer from and a form to get your FREE leaflets.