Having searched on my online journal library (thanks, Lee P!), there are 91,361 recent academic articles on headaches. So one could talk for ages about them. But clinically and osteopathically, at least in ‘my hands’, I think it can be whittled down a little more.
There are those headaches that can be helped by hands and those that are more difficult. Thankfully, in my experience, most can be helped. This may, however, be due to the fact that we may not get to see the most ‘neurologically severe’ types in an average clinic setting. Nonetheless we do still get challenges that stump others.
Migraine or headache?
I think it stands to reason that if cheese or chocolate trigger a migraine, it makes sense to not eat them. This is not something that an osteopath can necessarily help with (besides offering naturopathic dietary advice), except to state the obvious. But so often, we mistake migraines for cervicogenic headaches – those that come from the neck area.
Many migraines are unilateral, meaning that they are felt above or ‘in’ one eye. When this sensation occurs, perhaps together with throbbing and blinding, we assume it has to be a migraine – but it does not have to be.
It is much more common to get unilateral headaches with similar symptoms to migraine from overlapping myofascial trigger points (glorified ‘knots’) in muscles called the posterior cervical triangle. When these trigger points act up, they commonly cause headaches. You will know quite clearly if your headache has its origins in your neck and this pattern will make sense to you.
Stress, head posture and head carriage, neck strains and injuries can cause headaches. Of course, there are headaches that need to be looked at very carefully to rule out anything beyond the musculo-skeletal or osteopathic. You may need to see your optometrist or dentist or certainly your GP. But there should be no reason why osteopathic treatment should not be able to stop or at least ease the majority of headaches. Even triggers such as menstrual cycle and foods can set off the same muscular effects, causing headache, and the treatment will often be the same.
Treatment often consists of muscular release by osteopathic techniques including cranial techniques, trigger-point dry needling, safe adjustments or manipulations, exercises and taping – but most likely all of the above!
As a headache sufferer myself, I understand the tediousness and pain of headaches. I was even once admitted to A&E shortly after I got married for what was thought to be a ‘thunderclap’ headache, possibly due to a TIA or mini-stroke. This was not marriage related! However, my headaches have more than halved over the years and I am convinced that attempted self-treatment and exercises have helped with this.
I see no reason why most headaches cannot be sorted osteopathically and I am happy to say that my treatments have worked very well for my patients. Now, if only I could treat myself!