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Headache / Migraine

Headaches come in a variety of forms, all unpleasant, and often so severe that work or daily activities suffer.

Can Osteopathy Treat Headaches?

migraine headache leicester

This depends on the cause of the headache. It is important to try to establish if there is a serious condition affecting the brain, blood vessels or nerves in the neck. Any suspicion of this should lead to a quick referral to a GP or hospital specialist.

Less serious causes of headache, such as muscle tension, may benefit from Osteopathy, Bowen Therapy and a range of relaxation therapies.

Treatment for headaches may involve massaging the muscles of the neck and upper spine and/or gentle manipulation of the joints. Osteopathic manipulation techniques for headaches are designed to improve joint mobility, especially in the cervical spine, and to reduce nerve irritation and muscle tension. The goals are to stretch the neck muscles and supporting ligaments, relax muscle spasms, and promote free movement of the musculoskeletal system to improve blood flow and drainage to and from the head and neck.

Your Osteopath may offer advice about posture, exercise and stretching, diet, stress management, techniques for lifting, and workplace ergonomics to prevent future headaches.

What Types of Headaches Can Be Treated with Osteopathy?

Tension headaches are very common and may arise from increased muscle tension at the base of the skull or in the neck and shoulders. Osteopathic manipulation techniques can be particularly useful for tension-type headaches caused by stress. They are usually treated by passive or active osteopathic manipulation techniques and relief may be very rapid. Migraines are severe recurrent headaches that are often accompanied by other symptoms, such as visual disturbances, nausea and neck pain. Osteopathic manipulation techniques for migraines may include:

  • High-velocity low-amplitude joint manipulations
  • Strain-Counterstrain manipulations
  • Deep-tissue massage

Is Osteopathy Effective?

Clinical studies on the effectiveness of Osteopathy for treating headaches have been very limited. Some studies have indicated that manipulative therapy and a low-load exercise regime may reduce the frequency and intensity of cervicogenic headaches, which are headaches originating from the neck. Other studies have found that spinal manipulations are as effective as some medications for relieving both migraines and tension headaches. A recent literature review found evidence that spinal manipulations may be effective for preventing migraine and chronic tension-type headaches. One recent report focused on patients with neck pain and headache lasting at least one month. Those who were treated with joint and muscle mobilization, manipulation, or adjustments combined with exercises reported greater pain relief and increased ability to perform daily activities, as compared with untreated subjects.

Is Osteopathy Safe?

Serious complications from osteopathy are rare. Osteopathic manipulation techniques occasionally result in a temporary increase in pain or a slight headache that usually disappears within one day. Osteopathic manipulations should not be used on patients with broken or dislocated bones, damaged ligaments, bone or joint infection, bone cancer, rheumatoid arthritis of the neck, or osteoporosis. Osteopathy is usually not recommended for patients who have undergone recent joint surgery or are taking blood-thinning medications such as aspirin or warfarin. Although many headache sufferers have found relief through Osteopathy, further research is needed to evaluate its effectiveness in the treatment of various types of headaches.

What Causes Headaches?

Headaches have numerous causes, most of which are not well understood. However headaches most often result from tightness in the muscles and skeleton of the body, especially the neck. Headache sufferers may have:

  • Poor head and upper-back posture
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Tight neck muscles with restricted range of motion
  • Muscles that overreact and are slow to relax
  • Muscle pain and tenderness

The cervical spine – the seven vertebrae of the neck – contributes to a large percentage of headaches. These are called cervicogenic headaches because they originate in the cervical spine. The nerves in the cervical vertebrae are closely associated with the main nerves in the head that are involved with pain. Tight neck muscles and/or joints that are not moving freely lead to congestion and inflammation that can cause headaches. Tense muscles in the neck and head can also release chemicals that may trigger headaches.

If you would like advice about your problem, book in for a consultation with an Osteopath.

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