Headache – Your Questions Answered and How Osteopathy Can Help

Are you suffering from headaches?

Read on to see answers to the most common questions we get regarding headache. Most importantly, what our osteopaths, right here in Mount Eliza, can offer to help you.

The hassle with headaches is that there are so many different types. In fact, Everyone describes their headache in their own individual way. So, your headache is likely unique to you.

We can however, look at research that has been performed over many years and draw upon that to create classifications of headache in order to help guide how we manage your situation.

What are the types of headache?

Tension Headaches:
These are the most common type of headache. They typically cause a mild to moderate, band-like pain around the head. They are often associated with stress, muscle tension, and spending too much time in certain postures.

Migraines are severe, often throbbing headaches that can last for hours to days. They are usually accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can be triggered by various factors, including certain foods, hormonal changes, and stress.

Cluster Headaches:
Cluster headaches are excruciatingly painful and usually occur in clusters over several weeks to months, followed by periods of remission. They are often described as sharp, stabbing pains that typically affect one side of the head. Cluster headaches are relatively rare but extremely intense.

Sinus Headaches:
These headaches are associated with sinusitis, which is inflammation or infection of the sinuses. The pain is often felt in the forehead, cheekbones, and the bridge of the nose. Sinus headaches are typically accompanied by nasal congestion and pressure in the facial area.

Hormone-Related Headaches:
Some headaches are triggered by hormonal fluctuations. Menstrual migraines, for example, occur in relation to a woman’s menstrual cycle. They are often more severe and less responsive to treatment than typical migraines.Rebound Headaches (Medication Overuse Headaches):
Overusing pain medications, such as over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription drugs, can lead to rebound headaches. These headaches often occur when the medication wears off, leading to a cycle of medication use and headaches.

Exertional Headaches:
These headaches occur during or after physical exertion, such as strenuous exercise. They are typically short-lived and may be triggered by dehydration or changes in blood pressure.

Thunderclap Headaches:
Thunderclap headaches are sudden and severe headaches that peak within a minute of onset. They can be a sign of a medical emergency and may indicate conditions like a subarachnoid hemorrhage or reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome. Please don’t present to an osteopath with this headache. The emergency department is where you need to be.

Ice Cream Headaches (Brain Freeze):
We’ve all had this one. I’ve included this in her because it’s an interesting one to discuss. A brain freeze headache illustrates how pain can be felt in the head when the problem is somewhere else.

This type of headache is caused by consuming very cold foods or beverages quickly. It results in a brief but intense headache, often referred to as “brain freeze.”

What causes a brain freeze headache?
A brain freeze, also known as an ice cream headache or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (medical term), is a type of headache that occurs suddenly after consuming something extremely cold, like ice cream or a frozen beverage. It happens due to a rapid change in temperature in the mouth and throat, and it typically affects the forehead area. Here’s how it occurs:

  1. Cold Stimulus: When you consume something cold, like ice cream, the cold temperature causes the blood vessels in the roof of your mouth (palate) to constrict (narrow) rapidly.
  2. Dilation of Blood Vessels: After a brief period of constriction, the body’s natural response is to dilate (widen) these blood vessels again. This is where the pain comes in.
  3. Pain Sensation: The rapid dilation of blood vessels triggers pain receptors in the mouth, specifically the sphenopalatine ganglion, which is a bundle of nerves located behind the palate. The brain interprets this pain as originating from the forehead area, which is why you feel the pain there.
  4. Short Duration: The headache is often intense but typically short-lived, usually lasting for less than a minute. It tends to subside once the blood vessels return to their normal state.

This is the cool bit: Referred pain is a phenomenon that occurs in the brain. Your body does not hold the entity of pain. Signals travel along our nerves to the brain, which then interprets those signals. Temperature receptors from the top of your mouth send signals to the the sensory cortex in the brain. Here, the neuronal links attributed to the roof of your mouth are located near the neurons attributed to your forehead. These forehead neurons become excited and begin to generate their own signals, telling your consciousness that the problem is in your forehead.

Migraine Headache

  • What is the difference Between a migraine and a headache?

    A migraine is one classification among various types of headache. Migraine also encompasses several distinct variations. Each, often characterized by a unique experience. The complete story of your headache is likely unique to you. It is common for someone to recount a distinctive narrative when discussing their migraine, while others might note their headache escalating into a migraine.

    Notably, migraines commonly involve additional symptoms not typically associated with tension headaches. Including; a more intense, pulsating/throbbing headache, the presence of an aura, nausea and vomiting, heightened sensitivity to light (photophobia), sound (phonophobia), and smells (osmophobia), along with difficulties in concentration and a sense of fatigue.

  • What does a migraine feel like?
    It is important to note that there is significant variability in the symptoms reported with migraine. You do not need to have all of these symptoms to have migraine as the cause for your headache.
    As osteopaths, we usually find that when these symptoms are present, working alongside your GP gives the best outcome for migraine. Many of these symptoms are different to normal musculoskeletal pain. So, involving your GP includes their expertise regarding the value of exploring these symptoms with further investigation. It also brings in an opinion regarding management from a medication perspective, should that be an avenue you want to try.
    Symptoms of a migraine include:

    • Severe Headache: The hallmark symptom of a migraine is a severe, throbbing or pulsating headache, typically on one side of the head. However, some individuals may experience pain on both sides or a shifting pain location during an attack.
    • Aura: Some individuals with migraines experience an “aura” before or during the headache phase. Auras are usually visual disturbances but can also affect other senses. Visual auras may include:
      • Flashes of light or zigzag lines.
      • Blind spots or temporary vision loss.
      • Distorted or shimmering vision.
    • It’s important to note that not all migraine sufferers experience auras, and the presence and intensity of these symptoms can vary. Additionally, migraines can have a prodromal phase with subtle warning signs before the headache phase begins.
    • Aura Duration: Auras typically last for about 20 minutes to an hour, and they may gradually subside or be followed by the headache phase.
    • It’s important to note that not all migraine sufferers experience auras, and the presence and intensity of these symptoms can vary. Additionally, migraines can have a prodromal phase with subtle warning signs before the headache phase begins.
    • Nausea and Vomiting: Many migraine sufferers experience nausea and may vomit during a migraine attack.
    • Sensitivity to Light (Photophobia): Bright lights, sunlight, or even moderate indoor lighting can intensify migraine symptoms and cause discomfort.
    • Sensitivity to Sound (Phonophobia): Noise, especially loud or sudden sounds, can worsen migraine pain and discomfort.
    • Sensitivity to Smells (Osmophobia): Certain odors or fragrances may trigger or worsen a migraine.
    • Pain on Movement: Physical activity or even routine movements can exacerbate the headache pain during a migraine attack.
    • Pulsating or Throbbing Pain: The headache pain is often described as a pulsating or throbbing sensation.
    • Difficulty Concentrating: Migraines can make it challenging to concentrate or think clearly.
    • Fatigue: Migraine attacks can leave individuals feeling extremely tired and physically drained.
    • Stiff Neck or Shoulders: Some people may experience neck or shoulder stiffness and tension during a migraine.
    • Tingling or Numbness: A sensation of tingling or numbness, known as paresthesia, can occur in various parts of the body, often on one side.
    • Aura without Headache (Silent Migraine): In rare cases, individuals may experience an aura without a subsequent headache.
    • Mood Changes: Migraines can lead to mood changes, such as irritability or sadness, before or during an attack.
  • What can trigger a migraine?

There are many things that can trigger a migraine. And the triggers are also often unique to the individual. Taking the time to consider your triggers can help to reduce the frequency of your migraine episodes. Keeping a headache journal can be helpful.

  1. Hormonal Changes: Fluctuations in hormone levels, often associated with the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or the use of hormonal birth control, can trigger migraines in some individuals.
  2. Foods: Certain foods and beverages are known migraine triggers, including:
    1. Aged cheeses
    2. Alcohol (especially red wine)
    3. Caffeine (withdrawal or excessive intake)
    4. Processed foods containing additives like MSG (monosodium glutamate) or artificial sweeteners

3. Stress: Emotional stress or sudden changes in stress levels can precipitate migraines.

4. Sleep Patterns: Irregular sleep patterns, including both insufficient sleep and excessive sleep, can trigger migraines.

5. Environmental Factors: Various environmental triggers include:

  • Strong odors or perfumes
  • Bright or flickering lights
  • Loud noises
  • Changes in weather or barometric pressure

6. Physical Factors: Intense physical exertion or overexertion can trigger migraines in some individuals.

7. Dehydration: Insufficient fluid intake or dehydration can lead to migraines.

8. Skipping Meals: Fasting or skipping meals can lower blood sugar levels, potentially triggering a migraine.

9. Medications: Some medications, such as certain blood pressure medications, oral contraceptives, and vasodilators, can be associated with migraines.

10. Hormone Therapy: Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and certain hormonal treatments can trigger migraines.

11. Caffeine: Sudden caffeine withdrawal or excessive caffeine consumption can be a trigger for some individuals.

12. Allergies: Allergic reactions or sinus congestion can lead to sinus headaches, which may be mistaken for migraines.

13. Physical Factors: Head or neck trauma, dental issues, and other physical factors can trigger migraines in some cases.

14. Menstruation: Some women experience menstrual migraines, which occur around the time of their menstrual period.

15. Sensory Stimuli: Certain sensory stimuli, such as flickering screens or intense visual patterns, can trigger migraines in individuals with visual sensitivities.

How do I know if my headache is serious?

Determining if a headache is serious or not depends on several factors, including the characteristics of the headache, associated symptoms, and your personal medical history.

If in doubt, sort it out! In Mount Eliza, we are very fortunate to have some very skilled and experienced doctors in the area. If your unsure if your headache is serious, book an appointment with your doctor to discuss any medical causes for your headache.

Here are some signs and symptoms that may indicate a potentially serious headache, warranting prompt medical attention:

How do I know if my headache is serious?

  • Sudden and Severe Onset: If your headache comes on suddenly and is described as the worst headache of your life, it could be a sign of a medical emergency, such as a subarachnoid hemorrhage or another serious condition.
  • Unusual Symptoms: Headaches accompanied by unusual symptoms like weakness, numbness, difficulty speaking, confusion, or changes in vision may indicate a neurological issue and should be evaluated immediately.
  • Severe Neck Stiffness with fever: A headache associated with severe neck stiffness and fever could be a sign of meningitis, which requires urgent medical attention.
  • Headache After a Head Injury: If you’ve experienced a recent head injury and develop a headache, especially if it worsens over time, it’s essential to seek medical evaluation to rule out a concussion or other head trauma-related issues.
  • Headache with Neurological Symptoms: Headaches accompanied by neurological symptoms, such as seizures, loss of consciousness, or partial paralysis, should be treated as a medical emergency.
  • Change in Pattern: If you have a history of headaches, but your headache pattern changes significantly in terms of frequency, intensity, or other characteristics, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional.
  • Age and New Onset: It is not normal to experience a headache that you have never had before if you are over the age of 50. And it is rare over 30 years of age. If you develop a new headache, it’s advisable to seek medical evaluation, as this could be related to more serious underlying conditions.
  • Associated Conditions: People with certain medical conditions, such as a history of cancer, HIV/AIDS, or autoimmune disorders, should be vigilant about any new or worsening headaches.
  • Use of Medications: If you take medications known to increase the risk of headaches, such as certain blood-thinning medications, and you experience a severe headache, consult your GP.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant individuals experiencing headaches, especially if accompanied by high blood pressure, blurred vision, or other symptoms, should seek immediate medical attention, as this could be a sign of conditions like preeclampsia.

When in doubt or if you have concerns about your headache, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution and consult a GP. They are well equipped to refer for imaging tests like CT scans or MRIs to determine the cause of your headache and recommend appropriate treatment. Remember that early diagnosis and intervention are key to addressing potentially serious headache conditions.

Can an osteopath help with headaches?

Yes, osteopaths are well equipped to help with headache. In fact, this is a very common presentation to us here at YouMove Osteopathy.

We believe that we are particularly helpful with those annoying tension headaches. We address problems in your jaw and upper neck to reduce pain and improve mobility.

Our osteopaths can also help with migraine headache. However, the cause for migraine headache can be variable. In many cases, migraine headache is related to issues with the upper neck. In people where this is the case, they often tell us that their migraine starts as a pain in the neck. This is the migraine headache which osteopathy may provide great benefit for.

Osteopathy uses a whole body wellness approach that focuses on the interrelationship between the body’s structure and function. Osteopaths are trained to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions, including headaches.

How does an osteopath help headaches?

Here’s how our Mount Eliza Osteopaths may be able to help with your headaches:

  1. We work with you to establish your goals.
    This is usually something along the lines of:

    1. Reduce the frequency, severity, and duration of headache events.
    2. Reduce the disability caused by headache.
    3. Reduce discomfort in the neck and shoulders.

2. After a thorough clinical examination, we will provide you with a diagnosis and discuss the causative factors specific to you. Some of these factors might include:

a. Muscle Tension: If your headaches are caused by muscle tension in the neck, shoulders, or upper back, Our osteopaths can use manual techniques such as soft tissue manipulation, stretching, and myofascial release to relieve muscle tension and improve blood flow.

b. Posture: Holding yourself in a sustained position for a long time can lead to excessive strain placed on your upper neck. Using a computer or spending a lot of time looking down at your phone is an example of this.

c. Head down posture increases to pressure on your neck 3-fold.

d. At YouMove osteopathy, we assess your posture and provide guidance on ergonomic changes and exercises to help correct posture issues.

e. Stress: Our osteopaths may incorporate relaxation techniques and stress management strategies into their treatment plans. Stress is a common trigger for tension headaches, and reducing stress can help prevent their recurrence. Sometimes, we may incorporate the management of another professional to specifically manage this if we feel that it is appropriate. If this is something that you want to do, we’ll help make this a smooth process.

f. Lifestyle and Diet: Our osteopaths may provide advice on lifestyle modifications, including recommendations for diet, exercise, and sleep patterns, to help manage and prevent headaches.

g. Assessment of Underlying Causes: Osteopaths take a comprehensive approach to healthcare and may explore underlying factors contributing to your headaches, such as nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, or other health conditions. We can work alongside other professionals if required, to get the best outcome for you.

3. We will then lay out a road to recovery for you. This might include:

  • Manual treatment to reduce headache via correcting the problems in the upper neck and upper back.
  • Postural correction of the neck to reduce recurrence.
  • Treating the spinal column and shoulders to help take strain off the neck.
  • Home exercise program to maintain and progress postural control.
  • Ergonomic modifications where applicable.

What type of headache can an osteopath help with?
Our osteopaths are really well equipped to help you with headaches that are related to your neck and jaw. We are highly trained to manage these area’s of the body.

When should you not see an osteopath for your headache?
While osteopathic care can be beneficial for many individuals with headaches, there are certain situations in which you should not see an osteopath as the first-line provider for your headache or when you should seek immediate medical attention from a different healthcare professional. We discussed these earlier but here are some instances when you should meet with your doctor, or present to ED instead of seeing an osteopath for your headache:

  • Severe and Sudden Onset: If your headache is sudden, severe, and described as “the worst headache of your life,” it could be a sign of a medical emergency, such as a subarachnoid hemorrhage or another serious condition. In such cases, you should seek immediate medical attention in an emergency department.
  • Neurological Symptoms: If your headache is accompanied by neurological symptoms like weakness, numbness, difficulty speaking, confusion, changes in vision, or loss of consciousness, it may indicate a neurological issue that requires evaluation by a neurologist or in an emergency setting.
  • New Onset After Age 40: If you are over 40 and experiencing a new-onset headache, especially if you have no prior history of headaches, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare provider, preferably a primary care physician or neurologist, to rule out underlying medical conditions.
  • History of Serious Medical Conditions: If you have a history of serious medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, autoimmune disorders, or other chronic illnesses, it’s important to consult with your primary care physician or a specialist familiar with your medical history before seeking osteopathic treatment for headaches.
  • Pregnancy Complications: If you are pregnant and experiencing headaches, especially if they are associated with high blood pressure, blurred vision, or other concerning symptoms, you should consult your obstetrician or healthcare provider for evaluation and guidance.
  • Medication Side Effects: If you suspect that your headaches are related to medication side effects or interactions, it’s best to consult with your prescribing healthcare provider or pharmacist for adjustments to your medication regimen.
  • History of Head Trauma: If you have a recent history of head trauma or injury, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider who specializes in head injuries, such as a neurologist or a physician in an urgent care or emergency department.
  • Unexplained Changes in Headache Pattern: If you have an existing history of headaches, but you notice significant changes in the pattern, intensity, or duration of your headaches, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare provider to rule out any underlying medical issues.

It’s important to note that osteopaths are trained healthcare professionals, and they can play a valuable role in managing certain types of headaches, particularly those related to musculoskeletal issues or tension. However, in cases of severe or atypical headaches, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and seek the appropriate medical evaluation and care from the right healthcare provider for your specific situation.

What osteopathy techniques are used for headaches?

Osteopath’s are well equipped with a big bag of manual therapy options. At YouMove Osteopathy, we use the techniques that you are comfortable with. For example, you might get a lot of benefit from soft tissue techniques like massage and trigger point therapy, but you might have a fear of needles. So, we will apply massage and trigger point therapy, along with self-care advice of course. And we will avoid myofascial dry needling.

Here are some of the ways that an osteo can help headache:

  • Manual therapy options:
    • Direct mobilization of the top 3 joints to take the strain off the joints responsible for your headache.
    • Soft tissue work including massage, trigger point therapy, local inhibition and dry needling. Particularly to help with discomfort around the top of your back & shoulders which is often associated with headaches.
    • Mobility work including passive articulation to free up the joints in your neck.
    • Stretching to lengthen muscle and increase joint range of motion.
    • Manipulation, more commonly knows as “joint-cracking”: To increase joint range of motion, and To elicit a reflex relaxation of local musculature, ligaments and tendons
  • Self care options:
    • Ergonomic advice
    • Home based exercises to act as a quick-win to help resolve a headache
    • Home-based exercises to help reduce the recurrence of headache
    • Mindfulness and medication techniques
    • Discuss lifestyle/activity modifications  

Struggling with headache? Need answers? We’re here to help!

As osteopaths, we understand that experiencing headaches can be a challenging and distressing issue, but remember that there is a lot that can be done to help.

For some individuals, headaches are linked to muscle tension, postural problems, or issues related to the musculoskeletal system. At YouMove Osteopathy, we can play a valuable role in addressing these contributing factors. Our osteopaths can use hands-on manual techniques to assess and treat musculoskeletal imbalances, provide guidance on posture and ergonomics, and help alleviate muscle tension.

If you or someone you know is dealing with headaches, give YouMove osteopathy a call to see how we can help.

Caring, professional osteopaths in Mount Eliza Village!

Ready to move and feel better? Get back to doing what you love! YouMove Osteopathy is here to help! Book an appointment online in just a few clicks: Schedule your path to recovery today! Are you a healthcare professional? Make a referral to a team that cares! We collaborate seamlessly with you to ensure your clients optimal outcome.