Headaches can be classified as primary or secondary headaches.
Primary headaches: have no underlying pathologic process (i.e. tension-type headaches, and migraines).
Secondary headaches: are caused by another condition triggering pain in the head (i.e. cervicogenic headaches or medication overuse headache).
You may not think of physiotherapy when it comes to your headaches, but physiotherapy can help. The common feature between all headache sufferers is a sensitised trigemino-cervical nucleus (TCN) - also known as the lower brainstem. The lower brainstem extends into the spinal canal (down to the 3rd bone). Joint or muscle dysfunction in those top 3 levels of the neck will sensitise the TCN/lower brain stem causing pain to refer into the head, giving you a headache or migraine. Over time, sensitisation of the lower brain stem can lower the body’s threshold to hormones, stress, fatigue, wine, cheese etc. giving each of these factors the potential to cause a headache. But these triggers may not be the cause of your headache - your sensitised brainstem likely is! And there is a way to reduce this sensitisation.
Our Master Physiotherapist, Robyn Atkinson, has been trained in the Watson Headache® Approach. This method is an internationally renowned and researched method of examination and treatment for headaches. Its’ accuracy is unparalleled: specific tests can confirm upper neck disorders responsible for headache and migraine and isolate the specific joint/structure involved. The Watson Headache® Approach utilises small amplitude techniques (no cracking or manipulation) to confirm involvement of the neck through reproduction and resolution of your usual head pain.
This targeted and gentle treatment to the upper neck, reduces sensitisation of the lower brainstem, leading to long-term resolution of your headaches, ability to return to what you love to do (and eat and drink!) without getting a headache or migraine. No more pills, no more avoiding the things that you love.
Other traditional treatment for headache primarily focuses on a couple headache disorders only (i.e. tension-type headache and cervicogenic headache).
Effective treatment is available for the following headache types through The Headache Clinic: :
Within your first initial appointment, your physiotherapist will determine whether your cervical spine is contributing to your headache pain and with specific assessment techniques be able to isolate the specific joint dysfunction and treat appropriately. Even if you have been suffering from headaches for many years, you can expect improvements within the first 1-5 sessions.
Robyn Atkinson has over 10 years of experience working in New Zealand and Australia as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist, has published in the international peer-reviewed journal Manual Therapy, and has taught within the physiotherapy department at Auckland University of Technology. Robyn has a special interest in treating headaches, offering long-term solutions to those who have been suffering from headaches, sometimes for decades.
Treatment for headaches and migraine has traditionally focused on activity modification and medication to lessen symptoms rather than address the cause of pain. The result being repeated headaches that may be better controlled but still occur. Her approach offers better long-term solutions by treating the cause of the headache pain. This may include ergonomic solutions, postural strengthening, and/or manual therapy for neck-related dysfunction - all of which can contribute to headache pain. This approach enables a return to the food and activity that may have once triggered headaches and reduction in pain medication use.