HEADACHES… WHAT ARE THEY AND CAN PHYSIOTHERAPY HELP?

A headache is one of the most common types of pain presentations people experience. They vary in severity, type, frequency and duration. Consequently, treatment options and methods vary drastically, which makes identifying an appropriate treatment plan difficult. Physiotherapy can be an effective form of conservative management for some forms of headaches.

WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF HEADACHES WE SEE IN THE CLINIC?

  • CERVICOGENIC HEADACHES

Cervicogenic headaches are caused by dysfunction of the tissues (ie. muscle, joint, disc) in the head and neck and account for 15% of recurrent headaches. Symptoms are usually unilateral, dull, achey, and aggravated with movement of the head/neck. As they stem from a musculoskeletal source, cervicogenic headaches can be effectively and efficiently managed with Physiotherapy.

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  • MIGRAINES (WITH AND WITHOUT AURA)

Migraines can be particularly debilitating and are associated with quite specific symptoms. They occur more commonly in females (18%) than males (6%) and there is often a familial link (ie. another family member, often the mother or father, will also suffer from migraines).

Migraines without an aura are recurrent and last 4-72 hours. Symptoms must include either:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting,
  • Sensitivity to sound and light.  

Furthermore, to be classified as a migraine, a further two of the following must be experienced:

  • Unilateral location,
  • Pulsating quality,
  • Moderate/severe intensity,
  • Aggravated by normal physical activity (ie. walking up stairs).

Migraines with an aura account for 10-30% of migraines and last 5-60 minutes. They are associated with a reversible neurological defect, such as; visual disturbances, numbness, paraesthesia (pins and needles), dysphasia (difficulty speaking or slurred speech) or aphasia (inability to speak).

  • TENSION-TYPE HEADACHE

Tension-type headaches account for up to 70% of headaches experienced. They can last extended periods of time (up to 7 days) and are characterised by symptoms such as:

  • Pressing/tightening of the head (non-pulsating),
  • Mild or moderate intensity,
  • Bilateral location,
  • Not aggravated by normal activity (ie. walking up stairs).
IS IT POSSIBLE TO EXPERIENCE ASPECTS OF ALL THREE HEADACHES?

In short, yes, it is. As Physiotherapists, we often have people present with a range of headache symptoms. This means you can, for example, have a cervicogenic headache with elements of a tension-type headache. Unfortunately not everyone fits perfectly into one headache category!

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO MANAGE HEADACHES?

With headaches affecting almost 90% of the population in Australia at any given time, the burden of headaches on society is phenomenal. Often, a multidisciplinary approach is necessary to address all the various factors that contribute to the headache.

Factors that contribute to the development of headaches include (but are not limited to):

  • Stress
  • Grinding and clenching of the teeth
  • Diet and hydration
  • Poor posture
  • Myofascial overload
  • Trauma (ie. motor vehicle accident, head contact playing sport)

These factors often mean several health professionals (including Physiotherapists, Dentists, Doctors, and Psychologists) may need to work collaboratively to achieve the best outcome for each individual.

PHYSIOTHERAPY MANAGEMENT – DIAGNOSE. FIX. PREVENT.

DIAGNOSE: To reach an accurate diagnosis, Physiotherapists at The Injury Clinic will complete a thorough musculoskeletal assessment to ensure Physiotherapy intervention is appropriate.

FIX: Once a diagnosis has been made, a Physiotherapy treatment plan will be developed. This will often include:

  • Soft tissue mobilization (ie. massage, dry needling),
  • Joint mobilization,
  • Activity/environment modification (ie. desk set-up, sitting posture),
  • Self-management strategies,
  • Strengthening exercises, deep neck flexor (DNF) activation and improving motor control of the neck,
  • Referral to other health professionals (if indicated).

PREVENT: As symptoms subside, the Physiotherapist will ensure you have the appropriate self-management strategies in place to minimise the headaches chance of reoccurrence.

IN SUMMARY…

Headaches are very common and can be extremely debilitating. At The Injury Clinic we frequently assist in the management and prevention of headaches by providing an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. If you are suffering from a headache and feel we can help you, please contact us on (03) 5229 3911 or info@theinjuryclinic.com.au.

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