We have all had them. They are always painful and in some cases debilitating. Some of us have one headache a year and others have one headache-free day a year. They come on for a number of different reasons and most are treatable and avoidable.
Here are some of most common types of headache:
Tension Type Headache:
Felt as a pressure pain that encompasses the head, like a band. Often come and go over the course of a few hours, though can return daily in some cases. Often occurs via triggers like stress, posture or tension on the muscle across the shoulder and neck. Rarely it is only one factor contributing to the headache, rather a myriad of small contributors combining to produce the pain. They are best treated with an in-depth physiotherapy assessment to find the contributing factor and alleviate the tension from the neural structures that may be contributing to the headache.
This is a specific diagnosis that involves a referring pain from the upper neck joints/nerves into the head. It is normally one sided and covers an area from the base of the skull to the temple. Normally, neck stiffness can precede or occur during the headache. For some people this may be a one-off anomaly and for other a recurrent and debilitating condition.
Treatment for this must include a combination of exercises from your physio to off-load the back of the neck and manual therapy to relieve the pain and stiffness.
Migraines with and without aura:
These are strong headaches that may involve many other symptoms like sensitivity to light and sounds, ringing in the ears, nausea, irritability, blurred vision and fatigue. Some are genetically or hormonally linked, but all have a trigger of some description. Finding and managing the trigger can be the most difficult aspect of this type of headache and often a GP, physio or specialist may assist in this process.
Severe and debilitating headaches that often come on without warning. They are felt in a small region on the skull/near the eye and are managed through a neurologist with medication.
As with all musculoskeletal conditions, a thorough assessment is necessary to form a solid diagnosis and to form the appropriate management plan.
As a physiotherapist, over the last decade or so I have managed hundreds of headache cases and now take a specialised interest in this area. So whether you suffer the most minor but annoying headache to the most severe migraine, rest assured there are options for management out there that minimise the impact of headaches on your life.
Written by Andrew Alexander, Physiotherapist @ Physio Connex