Headaches: The Causes and How to Best Fix Them


Headaches: debunking the common misconceptions surrounding their causes & how to best fix them

Headaches range from everyday ‘run of the mill’ annoyances, to debilitating migraines severely affecting people’s lives.  There are a plethora of options when it comes to seeking relief: nurafen, heat packs, neck stretches, going for a walk, getting fresh air, drinking some water/hydrating, cold cloth across the neck, & massage just to name a few of the more commonly tried.  These may work to some effect, but more likely the result is just a somewhat dulled or temporarily fixed problem.

The point I am trying to make is that if you were to ask most people for their advice when it comes to resolving a headache, you will probably get 8 different answers from 10 people.  The reason for such a wide range of tried & tested mediocre remedies are that none target the Cause of headaches.  At least not very efficiently.

Even the traditional medical model of headache which classifies headaches into 3 main groups – the two most commonly referred to (1) Tension & (2) Migraine – is viewing various forms of headaches as distinct conditions with unknown pathophysiological mechanisms (i.e. there is still no supported research evidence to link tension in your shoulders and neck to the actual headache, nor the throbbing in your head to the migraine).  Without knowing the direct reason behind why a headache occurs makes it difficult to treat effectively.

What is better understood now is that different forms of headache and migraine all stem from the same root cause (same pathophysiological process).  This Cause is what we call sensitisation of the trigemino cervical nucleus, which in simpler terms basically means the top of your neck (more specifically the top 3 bones of your neck).  Sensitisation means that this area will make normal things seem painful, somewhat like how you can feel adverse to touch & achey when you have the flu.  Other common examples of this sensitisation to normal stimuli are having certain triggers that set off migraines/headaches – drinking red wine, eating dark chocolate, the smell of petrol, & exposure to bright lights.  This disorder has been demonstrated in sufferers of migraines, tension headaches, menstrual migraine, & cluster (sharp, long lasting) headaches.  So to classify headaches of this origin technically correct would force us to stop using the terms ‘tension headache’ and start using ‘neck headache’.  In medical terms we call them cervicogenic (originating from the cervical spine/neck) headaches.

Now to Treat these ‘neck’ headaches optimally, it is not so much about diagnosing them technically, but about identifying the reason for the sensitisation of the top of the neck.  This requires precise examination of these top 3 joints to figure out which ones are involved in your particular headache – such as where you are feeling it predominately.  Common areas affected are the forehead, behind the eye(s), temple(s), base of the skull, etc, with symptoms ranging from dull ache to throbbing, even to a vice-like pressure around both temples.

These specific assessment and treatment techniques have been developed by Dean Watson, the director of the Watson Headache Institute & the Headache Clinic.  Our Physiotherapists here at Get Active have been personally trained by Dean, with therapist Jay Quan having completed both the first and second levels.

A full assessment with one of our physios will allow you to get right to the cause of your headaches, and learn the proper way to manage and take control of these cumbersome devils.


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