There are many causes of headaches, whether it be neck stiffness, trauma to the head such as concussion or such things as a disease. Here I will discuss the osteopathic approach to the most common form of headaches, and that is those caused by problems in the neck. There are known as cervico-genic headaches.
When you get mechanical tightness in the neck, this causes irritation of the nerves, muscles and blood vessels that run through the neck and up into and across the head. The muscles contract, which pulls the vertebral bones closer together, and this puts pressure on the nerves and blood vessels, which get trapped. A type of headache I see and treat a lot is Greater Occipital Neuralgia, and this headache is characterised by pain running from the neck meets the back of the head, across the top of the head to above the eye. This is the course of the Greater Occipital nerve, and nerve pain is called neuralgia, thus Greater Occipital Neuralgia. It can be on one side or both. Easing the mechanical and muscle tightness in the neck releases the nerve and gets rid of the headache.
There are many reasons why you might have mechanical tightness in your neck. Postural stress, computers, whiplash, previous neck injuries and poor eyesight leading to straining to see are but a few examples. Osteopathically we would seek to treat the cause of the neck tightness so as to treat the headache, and this would involve taking into account and addressing all the factors causing the neck tightness. “Treat the cause not the effect” is the mantra. I use Osteopathy and Cranial Osteopathy to successfully treat these and other kinds of headaches on a daily basis.
As part of the diagnostic process we would aim to rule out other more serious causes of headaches such as diseases inside the head. If we were to suspect something other than a mechanical cause for the headache we would refer you back to your GP so they can arrange other tests and examinations.
Philip Waldman D.O. FSCCO Registered Osteopath and Cranial Osteopath is also founder and director of Chelsea Natural Health, which is based on the Fulham Road in SW10.