Ugh, my head is pounding!
I have such a bad headache… or is it a migraine?
A VERY common complaint we see at Bodywell Healthcare are people suffering from headaches or migraine. And although there are similarities between the two, there are also some key things that can help to differentiate between them!
So what’s the difference between headache and migraine?
HEADACHES affect almost everyone at some point! They can dampen our mood, decrease our work productivity and concentration, as well as our ability to do everyday activities.
Headaches can literally be a pain in the neck – but why else are they there? Thankfully most headaches are caused by relatively minor conditions such as:
- Tight neck and shoulder muscles
- Poor posture
- Stress and anxiety
- Jaw clenching or grinding of teeth
- Sleep deprivation
However they can also also be caused by other things such as high blood pressure, viruses, hormonal changes and tumours which may all need to be investigated further by a GP.
I used to think that a “headache is just a headache” but turns out there are many different types! Most of these have crossovers and aren’t always just one type, but there is usually an area that is the main source of pain.
© Eveleen007 | Dreamstime source
Cervicogenic or “neck” headaches are our main perpetrator at the clinic! This is when an increased tension or tightness through the head and neck muscles are causing the headache, which is usually felt at the top or back of the head. This can include irritation of the joints, muscles, fascia and even neural structures around the neck. Often these are contributed to by prolonged and poor postures.
Tension headaches are experienced by roughly 30% of the population every year! It usually feels like a dull pain across both sides of the head, particularly across the forehead. It can last anywhere between an hour to days, and often are contributed to by stress, poor sleep, posture and fatigue.
Cluster headaches are commonly seen in men, come on suddenly and can last minutes or hours. They will usually happen at the same time every day for a number of weeks, notably with pain around one eye.
Sinus headaches are usually associated with allergies, and often strike when you are feeling sick or congested. Sufferers usually find they have facial pain or pressure behind the eyes, along the cheeks, forehead and nose, especially when leaning forward.
TMJ (temporo-mandibular joint) headaches are caused by irritation or dysfunction in the jaw joints or muscles, which can be felt at the temples and in front of the ears. This can include such things as clenching or grinding the teeth.
MIGRAINE is a neurological disease that affects both men (6%) and women (18%). Migraine is thought to occur due to a heightened sensitivity to a change in stimulus which affects the blood in the brain and surrounding areas, and sufferers will sometimes have particular triggers that they can identify.
Migraine is a very personalised disease; some people will experience only a few migraine attacks per year, while others may have severe attacks that last for months.
Typical or common migraines are generally characterised by a throbbing or a pulsating headache which is usually only on one side of the head with associated nausea, dizziness, and sensitivity to light, smell, or sound.
Some people will experience an additional phase prior to the headache known as an aura, where the sufferer may experience one or more sensations including numbness, pins and needles, seeing colours or flashes of light, spots in the vision, or strange tastes.
Some people may experience all of the sensory elements of a migraine attack with aura, except they do not experience the headache! And some migraine types are also classified based on their triggers, rather than their symptoms.
It is important to have an accurate diagnosis, as many people who experience frequent or severe migraine attacks will often have more than one type, and may find that different treatments work for different types of attacks. For more information on the types of migraine check out https://www.migraine.org.au/types
How can osteopathy help?
Here at Bodywell Healthcare, we are experienced in assessing, diagnosing and treating all the different types of headaches and migraine. Osteopathic treatment will vary depending on the type of complaint you may have, and we will usually work alongside other specialists such as your GP or a neurologist as part of a multidisciplinary care team.
Osteopathic treatment for headaches and migraine may include hands-on manual therapy to reduce muscle tension, improve range of motion in your neck, jaw, and back, and to improve general wellbeing. Our osteopathic treatment will also provide tailored advice based on your specific needs and your type of headache or migraine. Below is a summary of some of the basics of self-management that you can try at home. Please be aware that not every technique may be right for you, so please contact us if you have any questions.
Self-management strategies to try at home
Heat packs, hot water bottles or even a hot shower can often help to reduce muscle tension that may be contributing to your headache. Place one of these over the tops of your shoulders or across the base of your neck.
This may help ease the tightness through the muscles in the area, as well as aid in improving circulation. Remember to always follow the instructions of your wheat bag, and never place it directly on your skin (we don’t want you to burn yourself!)
In particular, sufferers of tension-type or cervicogenic headaches may respond well to heat.
Wili Heat Bags, (2020), Neck wrap Heat Bag – Summer Garden. Available here.
Applying a cold pack or cold compress can help to reduce inflammation, restrict the blood vessels, and can provide a numbing effect which may dull the pain sensation in the area.
In particular, using a cold pack is usually reported to work better than heat for migraine sufferers, especially when used at the beginning of a migraine attack.
P.S – Our Wili Heat Bags can also be used as cold packs! Just store them in the freezer wrapped in a tea towel and they will be ready to use whenever you need them!
3. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR POSTURE
Do you find that you’re always looking down at your phone, or slouched at your desk? Posture can put increased strain on the body, specifically the upper back and neck joints. It can lead to increased tension through the muscles which can cause referred pain that often contributes to headaches.
Here are some of our favourite stretches to help!
Often stress can cause a huge physical toll on our bodies! This may be in the form of poor work postures, clenching our jaws which can lead to the muscles around the face to tighten up, or just general every-day life stressors. Here are some links to a 5 minute yoga stretch or guided meditation to help relax your body and mind.
If you’re finding that even with these simple tools you’re not getting much relief, our osteopaths are here to help! Our osteopaths Madeleine Traeger, Rebecca Fear and Sarah Collins have a keen interest in treating the associated problems that often contribute to headaches and migraines!
Book online now or give the clinic a call on 9717 1200