Osteopathy and Headaches

Many people visit the Essential Osteopathy clinic to seek relief from headaches. Headaches can often be caused by increased tension of the muscles of the neck which then compress the nerves leaving the upper neck to supply the head (cervicogenic or tension headaches).  Congestion in the sinuses can also cause headaches (sinus headaches) and spasming of the vessels and nerves within the skull cause migraines.  It is not clearly understood how migraines develop other than this vaso or neuro-spasming however they seem to be caused by different triggers in people – chocolate, exercise, coffee, alcohol, travel and hormones are just some of the triggers.  The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) released ‘Quality Standards’ on the diagnosis and management on all these types of headaches and migraines and also medication overuse headaches (updated 2017).
Osteopaths are skilled at diagnosing the type of headache or migraine the patient is experiencing and, where appropriate, they use a number of techniques to relieve the symptoms.  Osteopaths Keays and Neher discuss the treatment of headaches in their article ‘Is Osteopathic manipulation effective for Headaches?’ Journal of Family Practice (2008). ‘Headaches often have more than one cause—physical, psychological, and pharmacological – and each requires treatment. I start by systematically eliminating specific headache triggers. Meanwhile, I find osteopathic treatment to be an easy and timely intervention to abort headache symptoms and improve patient well-being. I use a variety of techniques, including cervical soft tissue massage, occipital decompression, and myofascial unwinding:
1. Cervical soft tissue massage of the paraspinal tissues of the neck helps relieve the spasms of tension headaches.
2. Occipital decompression involves using the fingertips to manually stretch the paraspinal tissues at the base of the occiput (bone at the back of the head at the top of the neck); it works well in my experience to abort migraine headaches. I teach patients to use a rolled up hand towel behind their neck to do occipital decompression at home, which helps prevent further headaches.
3. Myofascial unwinding is a technique that literally unwinds the tissues encasing muscles in spasm. ‘
4. Spinal manipulation – as appropriate small joint releases can be created by the Osteopath to relieve muscle tension, help the spine move more segmentally and relieve pain.   The evidence-based answer to their question of whether Osteopathic manipulation is effective for headaches is:  ‘It can be. Spinal manipulative therapy (SMT), a component of Osteopathy, has been shown to be variably effective for the treatment of headaches. For the prophylactic treatment of cervic-ogenic headaches and for acute tension headaches, SMT is superior to placebo. For tension headache prophylaxis, research shows a trend toward better outcomes with amitriptyline than with SMT. For migraine prophylaxis, SMT has an effect similar to amitriptyline (strength of recommendation)’

Book in to see Fiona at Essential Osteopathy if you’re suffering with headaches or migraines or contact her if you have any questions – 07887 655007 / fiona@essentialosteopathy.co.uk

Blog Categories