Headaches and Treatments

Headaches are one of the most common reasons for healthcare visits in Calgary and are a major cause of discomfort, dysfunction, and disability. There are many different causes and symptom patterns related to headaches, and patients must be thoroughly assessed to appropriately diagnosis and treat their pain. Depending on the type of headache, manual therapy can be extremely helpful in reducing the pain and dysfunction caused by headaches.

Common headache types include migraine, cervicogenic and tension headaches, and cluster headaches.

Migraine Headaches:
Migraine headaches are a very intense form of headache that occur in conjunction with a variety of other symptoms that may include, but are not limited to, visual disturbances and aura, light and sound sensitivity, numbness or tingling, nausea, and vomiting. Many patients also experience stiffness and soreness in the muscles of the face, neck, and shoulders as a result of decreased mobility and function secondary to the migraine. Theses headaches are usually felt on one side of the head only and have a throbbing or pulsating quality. Migraines are triggered by a variety of different factors that may include ingestion of certain foods (commonly wine, cheese, and chocolate), strong odours, intense physical activity, stress, and hormonal changes. What causes these factors to trigger a migraine, however, is less clear although genetics, environmental factors, and imbalances in brain chemicals appear to play a role.

Manual therapists can help patients identify and avoid triggers for their migraines as well as treat the tension, stiffness, and soreness in the supportive structures of the head, neck, and shoulders that may occur secondarily to the migraine.

Treatment options for migraine include: massage, Graston technique, and Active Release Techniques

Cervicogenic Headaches:
The term “cervicogenic headache” refers to a headache caused by dysfunction of the cervical spine (the neck) that refers moderate pain to the head. These headaches are typically experienced at the upper neck and back of the head.

Tension Headache:
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. These headaches are described as “band like” as the moderate and diffuse pain is felt all the way around the head.

In cases of cervicogenic and tension headaches, manual therapy is very efficient and effective in reducing pain and dysfunction.

Treatment options for cervicogenic and tension headaches include: Active Release Techniques, joint manipulation, and acupuncture.

Cluster Headaches:
Cluster headaches occur most typically in men between 20 and 50 years of age. The headaches come on in cyclical patterns (clusters) and cause severe pain on one side of the head or behind one eye. Typically a cluster headache will cause a patient to awaken in the night. Accompanying symptoms include intense referred pain to the neck and shoulders of the affected side, tearing and/or redness of the affected eye, nasal stuffiness, and facial sweating. The cause of cluster headaches is unknown.

Manual therapy can help to reduce the duration and severity of symptoms that accompany the cluster headache including pain in the neck, shoulders, and face.

Treatment options for symptoms secondary to cluster headaches include: Graston technique,
Active Release Techniques, massage, and acupuncture.

Other Headaches:
Headache causes and symptom patterns are multifactorial and often not well understood. As a result, it is extremely important that headaches and their associated symptoms are appropriately assessed for accurate diagnosis and treatment or referral. Other causes for headaches not described above include but are not limited to dehydration, stress, infection, and trauma.