Most of us, at one time or another, can say we’ve dealt with headaches. In fact about 66% of people battle with headaches at some point in their life. Now “headaches” is a pretty broad term, and includes a variety of different types based on what’s causing them. Three of the most common types of chronic (recurring or long lasting) headaches are: tension-type headaches, migraines, and cervicogenic headaches. Most people know a bit about the first two, but today I wanted to shed some light on the lesser known cervicogenic headache and the possible benefits that Physiotherapy might be able to provide for you.
Cervicogenic headaches aren’t as common as migraines or tension-type headaches, but can still affect a person’s quality of life. It can limit one’s activities, work, and social life and force people to modify what they do to avoid triggers that often predictably result in the headache or make it worse (often neck movements or sustained postures). These headaches, although felt often at the base of the skull and temple, are thought to be produced by some dysfunction at the upper neck region. Good news is that physiotherapy interventions, specifically directed exercises and manual therapy to address what’s driving the headache, have been shown in a number of research studies and reviews to produce both short and long term improvements in headache intensity and frequency. It’s important to realize however that although effective for cervicogenic headaches, physiotherapy interventions haven’t been found to produce the same improvements in migraine or tension-type headaches.
So how do you know if you may be suffering from cervicogenic headaches specifically compared to migraines or tension-type headaches? Cervicogenic headaches are often: one-sided (consistently the same each time), worse with neck movement or sustained postures, begin around the base of the skull, and can be accompanied by some neck stiffness/ restriction in your range of motion. There are also some specific tests that your Physiotherapist can perform which help reliably differentiate this type of headache from a migraine or tension-type headache. Cervicogenic headaches tend to recur quite often, and can even produce some discomfort into the shoulder/ arm of the same side when bad. Because of their mechanical nature, they often keep people from being active as the fast movements involved with some exercises can cause discomfort. This is important to address as we know that any lengthy period of inactivity has its consequences, both physically and mentally.
In comparison, tension-type headaches are often both sided, not aggravated by physical activity, and tend to produce a tightening feeling. Lastly migraines are often more severe in nature, last only 24-72 hrs, can be associated with light/ sound sensitivity, and may be accompanied by an aura. Although these types seem distinct, sometimes the lines are a bit more blurred and that’s where your local healthcare professional can help you differentiate.
So if you’ve been battling with headaches, and feel as though you fit into this category, why not give us a call and find out if Physiotherapy is the right fit for your headache.