Headaches can be challenging to prevent and get rid of. What many people don’t know is that there are different types of headaches and although some of their causes and preventative measures overlap, each type does have their own unique triggers and presentations.

Cervicogenic Headaches

In this era of technology, phones, computers, and binge-watching Netflix can play a big role in causing what are called Cervicogenic headaches. Cervicogenic headaches are caused by neck dysfunction and along with neck pain, generally are felt as pain or tension in the neck and back of the head. This can be a result of habitual slouched postures, such as your common desk job or use of technology but can also be commonly found in weight lifters or those who have suffered from whiplash and concussions.

Tension Headaches

Stress is another common culprit that can cause headaches, specifically one classification known as tension headaches. These types of headaches, which generally begin in your early 30’s and can sometimes last multiple days, tend to be relatively less intense than other types of headaches and the pain will present at the front of the head.

Migraine Headaches

A third common headache type is the migraine. Migraines can involve a cluster of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, pulsating, light sensitivity. They are known to be only on one side of the head and can often make it difficult to carry on with daily life when they attack. There are a number of causes of headaches including but not limited to genetics, activity levels, stress, and diet.

Treatment and Prevention

What many people also don’t know is that physiotherapy can help with headaches! First, physiotherapists help to rule out a more serious cause of your headache such as a stroke or tumor. Once the more emergent causes have been ruled out as a cause of your headache, physiotherapists can be beneficial in helping to prevent and alleviate some of the types of headaches mentioned above and their resulting symptoms. Physiotherapists can assess your posture or movement patterns and determine if certain muscles or joints are tighter than they should be. From there, your physiotherapist will design a personalized exercise program to help alleviate any tension and strengthen the opposing muscles. Generally, the areas targeted include the neck, jaw, upper back, and shoulders. Depending on the therapist, they may offer other supplementary treatment to help facilitate the exercise program such as hands on release, dry needling/IMS, or acupuncture to name a few.

Some causes and symptoms of tension headaches and migraines cannot be treated by physiotherapists directly; however, there is evidence that aerobic exercise can decrease the number of days per month spent with migraines. Research also suggests that increased physical activity has been proven to decrease stress levels which can precipitate both tension headaches and migraines. Additionally, there is evidence that neck pain and dysfunction can be a cause and a symptom of migraines and a symptom of tension headaches.

A physiotherapist is a professional who can not only help treat neck dysfunction but can also advise on exercises and an activity level that is appropriate for you.

When should you see a physiotherapist for headaches?

You should try physiotherapy treatment for your headaches if you are looking for a long-term solution to pain, stiffness, or headaches either before trying medication or to supplement the other types of treatment you may be using. You’d be surprised how muscle tightness and/or restricted joint movement, even in other areas of the body, would impact the likeliness of experiencing headaches. Some physiotherapists are certified in acupuncture, IMS, or dry needling; therefore, patients may also experience the added benefit of receiving multiple treatment techniques in one session. Furthermore, physiotherapy treatment is typically covered by most extended health benefit packages. This can be helpful in maintaining a treatment plan over time.

Written by Robyn Losch MScPT – Physiotherapist  – Pivotal Physiotherapy

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