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Unfortunately most people experience headaches at some time in their lives. Luckily Osteopathy can assist with treatments that may reduce help headaches and reduce need for medication. Many people suffer from chronic headaches (such as migraines and tension headaches) that interrupt their daily life for weeks or even years. Others experience acute headaches that appear all of a sudden and have a big impact over a short space of time.

According to the World Health Organisation, the majority of headaches are caused by joint strain, muscle tension and stiffness originating from the neck and upper back that build up over time.

Headaches can also be caused by:

  • poor posture
  • stress
  • eye strain
  • sinus congestion
  • whiplash injury
  • infection
  • jaw imbalance and teeth grinding
  • allergies and food intolerances
  • hormonal imbalance
  • overuse of medication


How can Osteopathy help?

Osteopaths work with your bones, joints, muscles, nerves, connective tissue and circulation to help your body function the way it’s meant to.

Stressed or strained muscles often form trigger points which are tender spots in a muscle belly that when over-stimulated refer pain to another part of the body. In particular, the trapezius muscle, sternocleidomastoid muscle and sub-occipital muscles are some of the more common muscles that can be a source of referred pain to the head.

     Image: Head and Neck Trigger Points by: http://www.triggerpoints.net

Osteopaths can help with headache pain by reducing the impact of trigger points and releasing joint strain and muscle tension. They can also assist with nerve compression and inflammation in the surrounding tissues.

Depending on the cause of your headache, your osteopath may work through your neck, ribs and upper back to improve your general mobility. These areas can often become stiff due to repetitive strain placed on the body from sitting at computers, poor posture and stress.

You may also be given exercises and stretches to help prevent symptoms recurring or be advised on correct posture and ergonomics within your home and work environment. If relevant your osteopath may also suggest diet or lifestyle changes that can assist with prevention of future headaches.

A headache diary can be helpful

Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint what is triggering your headaches. A headache diary can help you work out when and why headaches occur. Record the severity, duration and frequency of your headaches as well as things you have done that day. Sometimes a diary can help you to see patterns you may have otherwise missed. You can download a copy of the editable NPS Medicinewise Headache Diary here

When to see your doctor

Osteopaths are primary healthcare practitioners and are trained to recognise conditions that require medical referral. We are trained to perform standard medical examinations of the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory and nervous systems to differentiate between general musculoskeletal aches and pains and those that require further investigation.

If your headache is accompanied with any of the below symptoms than please see your doctor as soon as possible:

  • fever
  • nausea or vomiting
  • bleeding or fluid draining from the nose or ears
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision or speech
  • numbness, tingling or paralysis

Research Links

World Health Organisation Headache Factsheet

Spinal manipulations for tension-type headaches: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22579436

Efficacy of spinal manipulation for chronic headache: a systematic review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11562654

A comparison of selected osteopathic treatment and relaxation for tension-type headaches: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16942472