Headaches are a common condition which almost all of us would be familiar with and it is one of the most common presentations we see as Osteopaths.  There are many types of headaches, such as a cluster headache, or a sinus headache, with varying causes but far and away the most common headache is a tension headache. 

Studies have shown the incidence of tension headache to be as high as 3 in 4 of the population.  Tension headache is caused by increased muscle tension in the neck causing irritation to the upper cervical nerves that result in head tightness and pain.  Sufferers usually describe a vice like pressure associated with pain in the front or back of the head, often in a “hat band” distribution.  Neck pain is commonly associated with the headache, particularly in the upper part of the neck.

As Osteopaths, our primary goal is to help relieve the symptoms of headache through addressing mechanical neck restrictions and associated muscular tension.  Manual techniques such as massage, stretching and gentle mobilisation of the upper back and neck can help to reduce muscle tightness and decrease irritation in the tissues which cause the headache.

More long term strategies involve home based stretching and exercises aimed at addressing postural strain which can contribute to the build up of muscle tension in the neck.  These may come from your work, the way you sleep or hobbies you may have.  Lifestyle factors have also been shown to contribute to tension headaches, particularly stress.  By avoiding the build up of tension in the neck, the likelihood of a headache can be greatly reduced.


Written by Joshua Laurie

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