How do I get rid of a headache? Do I have a migraine? How does physiotherapy help relieve headache pain? What can I do to prevent headaches for coming back? Can I do exercises to help relieve headaches? All of your basic headache questions answered! See how physiotherapy can help you relieve headache pain and feel better.
Hi, this is Dana Ranahan from Body Works Sports Physiotherapy in North Vancouver, and I’m here today to talk to you a little bit about headaches. I have clients that come in or contact us and ask questions of “How do I get rid of a headache?” “This headache is killing me,” “It’s difficult to function,” “I find I need to stay in bed.” The other questions that come up are: “Am I having migraines? Is this headache a migraine?”
There’s multiple levels to those questions, and effectively, we need to first determine what is the cause of the headache. When we determine the cause of the headache, we can determine how to address it or how to help it.
There’s different types of headaches:
Most typically with migraines, people have:
- Some kind of food sensitivity triggers, some kind of allergy to something that sets it off.
- Sometimes they have a visual stimulus.
- Or it can be related to stress.
There might be different presentations in for the headache, and they’re usually quite severe.
Tension type headaches are what we treat in the clinic more often. With the tension headache, you can have all different kinds of component to it.
Sometimes, when we look at the head you can have tension through the temporalis muscle, which is on either side of the head (above and behind the ears). If this muscle gets tight, it can create pressure and people will get temporal headaches. Often we can determine the cause of the headache based on the location of the headache. If the headache is located here, sometimes people just have tension through their temporalis muscle.
You can also get trouble through the jaw, in the masseter muscle (in the cheek and back of jaw). Commonly we can see tension here with a lot of tension headaches that relate to the head and face.
Other types of tension headaches can come into the back of the head. This is one area where we see a lot of patients in the clinic that have headaches. We call these types of headaches cervicogenic headaches because often the headaches in the back of the head, or traveling up the back of the head, can be related to the upper neck.
When we look at the neck, we have the upper couple joints, and this is sort of the base of the skull. If this gets compressed, these nerves in the upper neck get pinched and they refer pain up the head. The C2 can give you pain in this back of the head. Sometimes you can even get headaches that travel behind the eye — it will feel like it’s behind your eyeball. That can come from the upper joint in the neck. If people have presentations of headache or locations of headaches that come into the upper neck, the back of the eye, and/or the back of the head, it can actually come directly from the upper neck.
There are other types of tension headaches into the neck where people get referrals for, all the way up with the big muscles in the neck as well. Most commonly we see referals for the upper neck. Before we determine how to get rid of a headache, we need to determine the cause of the headache. If we think there’s a neck relationship to the headache, physiotherapy can help.
Eye Strain Relating to Headaches
“Is eyestrain part of my headache?” This is another common question that we hear. Typically, if your eyes are having trouble, sometimes that coordinates with the neck trouble. If you’re straining to see your computer screen, that will make your head poke forward. Often there’s trouble with your vision. You should get checked by an optometrist and ensure you’re wearing the appropriate eyewear that you will need for that particular activity.
We can work on trying to coordinate how your eyes work, and where your neck is in placed. Effectively that will sometimes also help with the eye strain component of headaches. People might just feel strained across the front of the eye, so the front of the eye and the back of the neck often play together in terms of how we see symptoms.
How does physiotherapy help headaches?
Most times with headaches, people think they should go home and take some advil or something, and rest with the lights off. Those things can help, too. However, there’s a lot that we can do here in the clinic to alleviate headaches as well, especially if there’s a presentation in the neck.
If someone has something going on in the neck, most commonly they would have some kind of a postural issue where they would get some tension. Maybe they poke their chin forward; the neck gets tight at the back, and gets weak at the front. This creates some compression. It’s a simplistic presentation, but that gives you an idea of how we would see it in the clinic.
How would we treat this type of headache in the clinic?
We would work on some techniques with our hands to relieve some of the tension and try to restore motion. Sometimes we use acupuncture needles or intramuscular stimulation. These techniques are to release muscles down lower in the neck that can help as well. Those types of things can help to relieve tension in those areas, and restore more normal movement in through the neck. This will decompress and take away some of the pain.
Maintaining Health After Treatment
After that, we need to teach people how to maintain it.
More questions that come up are “How do I prevent headaches from happening again in the future?” or “What can I do to stop headaches from happening?”
If we think there’s a neck relationship to the headache, then we teach people exercises to strengthen the neck. We work on correcting their posture, where lengthening their neck and trying to get some strength in the front of the neck muscles and some length or loosening at the back of the neck muscles to try to help offload the tension that’s creating headaches.
We’ve covered a lot of topics about what types of headaches we see, the locations of headaches, how physical therapy can help headaches and how we can prevent them going forward.
Some other general principles that we do is talk about general lifestyle things. Some stress management techniques are one area. Taking little posture breaks at work are also helpful, so we suggest that people take a break every 30 to 60 minutes if they’re sitting on a computer for a long period of time. In that way they can break their posture, change their vision, work on some breathing techniques to ensure better mobility and better oxygenation to the body. Also, being sure to drink lots of water so dehydration is a very common cause of headaches. If you’re having headaches, that’s a really simple thing that you can try at home as well: just be sure you’re drinking lots of water throughout the day.
If you have any other questions specific to headaches that you’d like to ask, please send us an email or give us a call. We’re happy to help you out.
For more information we have lots of information on our website at www.body-works.ca or give us a call. Come on in and check out how we can help you to alleviate headaches and hopefully feel better.