Headache is pain felt in the head and/or face area and sometimes in the upper neck region. Quite a large portion of the population will experience an occasional headache in their lifetime. It is estimated up to 15% of Australians are affected by headaches with people ‘’aged 25-44 years more likely to report headaches than any other age group.’’ (ABS 1995)
The brain itself is not capable of causing headaches as it is not sensitive to pain. However, the membranes that cover the brain and the vessels that supply blood to the brain are highly sensitive to pain and may cause headaches if irritated.
Other structures in the head, face and neck area that are very sensitive to pain and can result in a headache if they are irritated are:
Muscles, skin, bones of the head, face and neck,
Nerves and arteries of the head and neck
Membranes of the ear, nose and throat
Headache Red Flags
Headaches are normally harmless but can cause a great deal of worry to the sufferer. Seek medical help if you experience any of the following headaches/with your headache:
sudden headache that’s blinding and worsening
worst ever headache
first headache if you are under 20 or over 50 years of age
severe head and neck trauma/injury
headache that keeps coming back
headache caused/worsened by coughing, sneezing, laughing, moving, sexual intercourse
slurred speech, confusion, weakness, drowsiness, memory loss, difficulty walking
fever, stiff neck, rash, weight loss
feel sick, nausea, vomiting
See your GP immediately if you experience:
sore scalp, jaw pain when eating, double or blurred vision with your headache.
Types of Headaches
Headaches can be classed in different ways. One being:
They are not related to any other condition. They are migraines, tension-type headaches and cluster headaches. These are the most common headaches. Even though at times there is no clear cause, the following are can cause or trigger primary headaches.
Lack of sleep
Stress/ excessive worry
Straining eyes like looking at computer screens for long periods of time
These are due to another condition or illness e.g. headaches due to head or neck trauma, concussions, headaches resulting with illnesses like colds/flu or sinus infections. Head pain can also result from dysfunctions/injury to the neck and jaw. Some women may experience headaches with changes in hormones in their bodies like taking the contraceptive pill, during pregnancy or menopause.
Different headaches differ in healing times, intensity or severity and location of the pain. Headaches can take anything from a few minutes to several hours to settle. Some even reoccurring throughout the day or even days on end. Some can be accompanied by other symptoms. Some headaches may appear concurrently e.g. a cervicogenic(neck) headache may appear simultaneously with a tension type headache. A migraine headache may appear together with a neck headache or tension type headache.
What to do when you suffer headaches
As a headache sufferer you know well how frustrating the impact of your headache can have on your life both socially and professionally. Understanding your headache triggers and how to manage them can help you a great deal. Here are some tips that might also help.
If you are very concerned about your headache, seek medical help
Drink plenty of water. Avoid food or drinks that make you urinate frequently like alcohol, caffeine drinks
Avoid excessive sweating; intense exercise, working in high temperature environments
Meditation or mindfulness. Try to relax
Moderate exercise or physical activity can reduce or alleviate headaches
Simple painkillers i.e. paracetamol
Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle through nutritious and balanced diet, physical activity, healthy relationships (both personally and professionally) and good quality sleep.
Osteopathy and Headaches
Some headaches that are due to complex/various causes may require a multidisciplinary care approach to provide better and long-term outcomes for the sufferers. Your osteopath will use manual and/or medical assessment techniques to find the cause of your headache after which they will use a variety of osteopathic manipulative treatment techniques to treat your headache. They may include:
Soft-tissue techniques including dry needling
Joint articulations(mobilisation) and/or joint manipulation
Postural assessment and correction
Ergonomics i.e. home, work
Exercise/movement rehabilitation i.e. stretching, muscle strengthening, balance
General wellness advice
Osteopaths will work with you towards helping manage your goals. Using osteopathic principles of unity of the body, the interrelationship between the structure and function and the knowledge that the body has its own inherent healing capabilities, they use the above techniques to find the cause of your headache and then provide required treatment. Since osteopaths don't just treat the condition, they will delve deep into other aspects of your life like personal, behavior and habits, social and professional lives to determine if your headache might have an association to or triggered by any other activities that you may not think are relevant to your situation.
If required, your osteopath will refer you for further medical testing to confirm the cause or rule out any sinister pathologies that could be causing your headaches. They can refer to other health professionals for a multidisciplinary care. People you may need to see for your headaches include but not limited to:
GP’s who if needed will refer you specialist like neurologists
Eye specialists, eye care professionals, Counselors/psychologists
Other manual therapists