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Headaches and Osteopathy

Headache has been referred to as ‘the most common complaint of civilized man’ as it affects approximately two-thirds of the general population. Classifications of headaches vary but as a rule there a seven groups of headaches, the first four of which are seen commonly whilst the last three are rarer:

  1. Headache associated with viral illness (eg. Influenza, sinusitis)
  2. Vascular headaches (eg. Migraine, cluster headache)
  3. Cervical headache (eg. Referred from joints, muscles and fascia of the neck region)
  4. Tension headache or muscle contraction headache
  5. Intracranial causes (eg. Caused by pathology within the cranium)
  6. Exercise-Related headache (eg. ‘footballers’ migraine’)
  7. Other causes (eg. Drugs, post-spinal procedure, post-traumatic)

(Brukner & Khan, Clinical Sports Medicine, 2007)

It is evident from this list that there are many different causes of headaches. Cervical headaches are a type of headache that is commonly seen in osteopathic practice.

As stated above, cervical headaches are caused by any number of various abnormalities within the cervical (neck) region. However, this type of headache is primarily produced by referred pain caused by irritation of the upper cervical nerves. This irritation of the nerves is commonly caused by damage to the upper joints of the neck or compression of the nerves due to tightness in the deep muscles of the neck which the nerves pass between.  Furthermore, these headaches can be caused by trigger points which are localized areas of muscle tightness found within the deep muscles of the neck and shoulders.

Cervical headaches are typically described as a constant, steady, dull ache affecting either one or both sides of the head. Patients often describe the pain to me as being a tight band which wraps around the head from the back of the neck to the temples, forehead or behind the eye(s). These headaches are commonly associated with neck pain or stiffness and may be aggravated by head and neck movements.

These headaches often begin gradually and unfortunately can last days, weeks or even months. They may follow an acute injury such as car accident or sporting injury, but more commonly are due to repetitive trauma caused by poor posture.

Osteopathic treatment of patients with cervical headaches involves correcting the abnormalities found within the joints, muscles and neural structures as well as correcting any aggravating factors such as postural issues and emotional stress. Treatment may include:

  • Soft tissues massage aimed at reducing muscle tightness
  • Stretching to relieve trigger points and lengthen tight muscles
  • Mobilization or manipulation of the joints to correct abnormalities and improve range of motion
  • Postural retraining to prevent re-occurrence
  • Exercise and stretching advice for patients to perform at home

If you have any concerns regarding headaches please consult your GP or osteopath for further investigations and advice.


13th Beach Osteopathy & Health Services

A: 66 Hitchcock Ave, Barwon Heads 3227

T: (03) 5254 2668

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