Blog Post

Let’s Talk About the Role of the Neck in HEADACHE and MIGRAINES.

When it comes to understanding the trials of living with constant headaches or migraines, it goes beyond just appreciating the toll of the physical discomfort. It’s about recognising how these conditions can cast a shadow over life’s simplest joys, robbing you of the pleasure found in everyday activities.

June is Migraine Awareness Month, a crucial time to shed light on these prevalent health conditions, which affect millions of Australians. 1

While the exact cause of headaches and migraines (H&M) is not yet fully understood, research has shown a strong link between these conditions and dysfunctional neck joints and nerves, even in the absence of neck pain.

Neck Pain and Headaches: What’s the Link?

At one stage, the number of different headache and migraine diagnoses was up to about 200!  However, as the research base evolved, it was discovered that instead of 200 separate conditions, it was more likely that a common deeper theme connected many of them. This being a sensitised section of the brain stem called the trigeminal-cervical nucleus.

Adam Physio Cairns Sensitised Brain Stem MigrainesOnce this section of the brain stem is sensitised by issues such as neck and jaw dysfunction, normal stimuli in the body such as hormonal fluctuations, blood pressure changes, muscle tension, stress, and eating/drinking foods such as cheese and wine, could TRIGGER a H&M.

The neck has traditionally been underestimated as a major contributor to H&M. However, internationally recognised headache expert Dean Watson believes that assessing and treating the cervical spine is vital when suffering from these often debilitating conditions. His research points to the cervical spine being a factor in the majority of cases, even in the absence of significant neck symptoms.

The Role of Physiotherapy in Managing Headaches and Migraines.

Treating headaches should involve a thorough examination of the body and a broad analysis of the many cognitive and lifestyle factors known to contribute to headache conditions.

There is not much point in doing hands-on treatment to tight muscles and stiff neck joints if someone’s habits or routine regularly irritates those structures or the central nervous system in general and starts the pain cycle all over again.

Helping headache sufferers to set realistic goals and implement daily strategies to correct often deep seeded physical and cognitive dysfunction is essential. It’s also vital to teach the individual how to take back control of their body and treat themselves. If you only rely on health professionals to fix you, then chronic headache cycles are very hard to break.

Physiotherapy can play an essential role in managing headaches and migraines, particularly if they are related to issues in the neck. By improving neck function, physiotherapists can help relieve the intensity and frequency of these conditions.

The Watson Headache® Approach.

One of many treatments aimed at breaking the vicious cycle of chronic H&M is a manual therapy approach called the Watson Headache® Approach. Developed by Australian physiotherapist Dr. Dean Watson, this approach focuses on the upper neck joints as a potential source of headaches and migraine.

This manual therapy uses hands-on treatment methods to identify disorders related to these joints and has been found effective in diagnosing and managing headaches and migraines.

A landmark study by Dr. Dean Watson and P.D. Drummond found a remarkable link between neck examination and the reproduction of headache pain.2 The results showed that 100% of tension-type headache sufferers and 94% of migraine sufferers had their typical head pain reproduced through an in-depth neck examination. This significant finding highlighted the intimate connection between neck issues, headaches, and migraines. Consult a practitioner trained in the Watson Headache® Approach, like Cairns Physio Ryan Adam, to determine if this treatment is right for you.

Don’t Suffer in Silence: Help is Available

This Migraine Awareness Month, let’s strive to improve understanding, empathy, and care for those living with headaches and migraines. If you or a loved one is suffering, remember that you’re not alone, and options for relief are available.

Reach out to Adam Physiotherapy Cairns today, and let us help you get back on track.

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