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Headache and Migraine Treatment

When you think of physiotherapy, you’re likely to note its benefits for rehabilitation after surgery or for treating injured or overused joints or muscles.

But physiotherapy for headaches or migraines? That’s often a surprising thought.

It shouldn’t be though. Your musculoskeletal and nervous systems have many knock-on effects throughout your body. Issues relating to posture, muscle strain or degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis can all influence headaches and migraines. If you’re dealing with headaches and migraines then it’s worth considering a course of physiotherapy treatment.

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How bad can a headache be?

That question only ever gets asked by people who get the occasional headache that responds easily to a glass of water or a nap!

If you experience recurrent headaches or migraines, you know they’re bad. And the World Health Organization (WHO) agrees, noting that headaches are underestimated, under-recognised and under-treated. According to the WHO,

‘Headache disorders, which are characterized by recurrent headache, are associated with personal and societal burdens of pain, disability, damaged quality of life, and financial cost.’

Living with any chronic condition is difficult. Recurrent headaches and migraines can take a toll on your professional success and your social life, causing time off work or last-minute cancellation of plans.

It’s not surprising that there’s a strong relationship between living with migraine or severe headache and depression, anxiety, and panic disorder.

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What types of headaches and migraines can physiotherapy help with?

There are hundreds of different types of headaches but some of the most common ones that physiotherapy may be able to address are:

  • Cervicogenic headaches: Your neck (known as your cervical spine) is the ultimate cause of this type of headache, felt as a dull ache, usually on one side of your head. You may also have a sore shoulder. A cervicogenic headache may be caused by an underlying condition like arthritis which affects the structures of your neck or by poor posture or strain.
  • Tension headaches: These cause a dull ache around your whole head, often with tenderness in your neck or shoulders. Stress is a big trigger
  • Cluster headaches: These intense headaches come one after the other in clusters. They usually only strike on one side of your face or behind one eye, causing it to weep. Symptoms include piercing or burning pain, swelling, redness, sweating or flushing.
  • Migraine headaches: Migraines are a complex neurological condition that can cause severe headache alongside nausea, vomiting and noise sensitivity. Some people also experience a set of visual disturbances known as aura, which causes symptoms such as flashing lights, zigzag lines, stars and blind spots.


Physiotherapy treatment for headaches and migraines

Physiotherapists use several different treatment options to ease your headaches or migraines, including:

  • Improving posture by altering your desk set-up, or changing how you stand, sit or sleep. Research shows that some head positions, which we easily fall into when slouching, can contribute to certain types of headaches. Your physio can help you learn better postures and they may also use spinal taping to help you improve your biomechanics and posture.
  • Mobilisation of your spinal joints, back muscles and jaw muscles, which may provide more relief than medication for neck-related headaches (though not for all headaches).
  • Dry needling or acupuncture which may reduce inflammation in the affected area and influence the pain-modulating areas of the brain. These therapies are best used as part of an overall treatment plan rather than a stand-alone treatment.
  • Pain treatments, rehabilitation exercises or nerve stimulation to assist with migraines or vestibular disorders such as dizziness or benign postural positional vertigo (BPPV).
  • Stress management such as relaxation strategies and deep breathing techniques to ease muscle tension, often as part of a broader treatment plan in conjunction with your GP or psychologist.


How can PhysioNorth help?

If you’re living with debilitating headaches or migraines, Physionorth is here for you. We recognise the impact these conditions can have on your life and we want to help you find a better way forward.

We start with a comprehensive assessment, asking about your symptoms, examining your posture and discussing what you’ve tried so far. Then we’ll recommend treatments to help relieve your symptoms and strengthen your body.

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All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances.

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