In the previous blog entry, we have explored the various types of headaches one can experience. Pharmacological interventions are often prescribed by doctors for severe headaches, ranging from simple analgesics or NSAIDS for mild to moderate migraines to triptans or ergots for moderate to severe headaches. However, many pharmacological interventions have adverse side-effects and some carry the risk of drug-drug interactions.
Here, we look at several methods one can manage the different types of headaches without relying on medication.
Physiotherapy for Migraine
We learned in the last blog entry that one of the most common types of headaches are caused by problems in the cervical spine, known as cervicogenic headaches. For these types of headaches, physiotherapy treatment to increase the cervical range of motion and decrease neck muscle tightness can often help alleviate most of the symptoms. Restrictions in segments of the cervical spine may cause referred pain elsewhere in the head – often manifesting itself as headaches; by treating the problem at the source, physiotherapy treatment is one of the most effective methods of managing these types of headaches. In addition, education on posture management, and exercises to strengthen weak neck muscles and stretch out tight muscles are given to help reduce the chance of the headaches reoccurring.
Finally, physical modalities, such as TENS and IFC can relief immediate muscle pain from the neck muscles, providing quick relief of symptoms associated with the neck.
Acupuncture for Migraine
With primary headaches, including migraines, one of the hallmarks is changes in the autonomic nervous system, becoming hyperactive (easy to trigger) or hypoactive (hard to trigger). Many of the autonomic nervous system dysfunctions can be controlled with help of acupuncture. Specifically, using sympathetic and parasympathetic “switches”, which normalizes the function of their respective systems, one can help alleviate some of the systemic issues that come from these types of headaches. These points can help improve sleep, normalize blood flow and blood pressure, calm the body and return an overactive nervous system back to normal. Acupuncture could also help alleviate local pain symptoms, especially myofascial pain associated with tension-type headaches, and also treat secondary complications from primary headaches such as tight muscles.
Acupuncture to alleviate tight neck and shoulder muscles can also help decrease referred pain to the head, helping to decrease pain from cervicogenic headaches.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Migraine Symptoms
While our treatments can help alleviate painful headache symptoms and treat the immediate problem, identifying secondary sources that may contribute to the headaches are also very important. These can include a lack of good sleep, poor diet, and a sedentary lifestyle. Lifestyle changes to improve sleep hygiene, diet, and general fitness can all help reduce or manage the severity and frequency of headaches
Identifying the triggers to the headaches are also very important – including loud noises and bright lights. Strategies to manage these include using earplugs if sensitive to noise, wearing sunglasses when outside if sensitive to light and avoiding the use of heavy perfumes (or being around people who use them) if sensitive to strong smells.
If you are experiencing headaches, contact a physiotherapist who can put you on the path to recovery.