Glenn Charbonneau, P.T.
Headaches - How, Why & What You Can do
Headaches are a very common, and often costly medical problem for people all over the world. With a lifetime prevalence between 93 to 98% of the population, the most common types of headaches include: cervicogenic, migraine and tension-type. Their symptoms and causes vary, as do treatment options.
These types of headaches refer to a disorder of the soft tissues within the neck (e.g. joints, disks and ligaments), and is usually accompanied with neck pain. Prevalence can be as high as 53% after a whiplash injury.
Sex: 50% Female
Location: One side of the head
Severity: Moderate to severe pain
Triggers: Neck movement and postures
Duration: 1 hour to weeks, episodic or chronic
These headaches are complex and multifaceted, involving activation and sensitization of certain pathways within the brain. Although our understanding behind the origin of pain is still limited, migraines are commonly described today as a “neurovascular disorder.”
Sex: 75% Female
Location: One side of the head that may shift
Severity: Moderate to severe pain
Duration: 4 to 72 hours, 1 to 4 times per month
*Triggers are still unclear, as common migraine experiences of sleep deprivation, hunger, or bright light may in fact be early symptoms of an already ongoing attack.
These are the most common sub-type, and are associated with musculoskeletal disorders such as muscle pain and myofascial trigger points around the head, neck and shoulders.
Sex: 60% Female
Location: One or both side(s) of the head
Severity: Mild to moderate pain
Triggers: Multiple (e.g. stress, fatigue, dehydration)
Duration: Days to weeks, 1-30 per month
Note that each of these headache sub-types may coexist with each other, particularly migraine and tension-type headaches.
Physical therapy interventions proposed to be effective for headaches include: spinal joint manipulation and/or mobilization, soft tissue compression, therapeutic exercises and dry needling (intramuscular stimulation or IMS ).
**Not sure what Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) is? - Check out our previous blog post**
Other interventions may include: pharmacological, acupuncture, relaxation and cognitive-behavioural therapy, biofeedback, taping, heat therapy and electrical stimulation (e.g. TENS).
Specifically, aerobic exercise may be effective prophylactically for individuals with migraine who do not want to take daily medication, while targeted neck and shoulder strengthening is better for cervicogenic and tension-type headaches. Limitations to exercise that need to be considered include adherence and self-reported satisfaction.
Headaches should be managed with openness to a variety interventions. Evidence suggests that effectiveness depends on proper reasoning by the clinician, as not all interventions are equally effective for each individual with their headache condition. The best course of action is to talk with your healthcare professional to find the best treatment options for you.
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