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Headache Relief Through Osteopathy: Understanding Types and Treatment Approaches

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

Headaches can be debilitating, affecting our quality of life and productivity. While there are various types of headaches, finding effective relief can be challenging. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the types of headaches commonly encountered and how osteopathy, a holistic medical practice, can provide potential relief. Discover the connection between musculoskeletal imbalances and headaches and learn about the specific osteopathic techniques used for different types of headaches.


Types of Headache

Tension headaches

Caused by stress and muscle tension. Typically occurs as a band of pain.

Migraine headaches

Cluster headaches

Sinus headaches

Cervicogenic headaches

Post-traumatic headaches

Rebound headaches


Osteopathy and Headache Relief

Osteopathy, a hands-on medical practice focused on the manual manipulation of bones, muscles and other tissues, offers potential relief for various types of headaches. Research suggests that osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) may effectively reduce pain and improve functional status in various musculoskeletal disorders.


Studies have demonstrated the benefits of OMT in decreasing headache frequency, intensity, and duration in both TTH and migraines. Osteopaths take a personalised approach to each headache type, addressing the underlying causes and tailoring treatment accordingly.


Tension Headaches: Effective Solutions for Tension and Stress-Related Headaches


Multiple studies have provided evidence supporting the effectiveness of osteopathy in managing tension headaches. Research has shown that OMT techniques, such as myofascial release and spinal manipulation, significantly reduce tension headaches' frequency, intensity, and duration. Osteopathic treatment, including soft tissue techniques and cranial osteopathy, has also improved quality of life and reduced reliance on pain medications for individuals with tension-type headaches.


Systematic reviews and randomised controlled trials have consistently demonstrated the positive impact of osteopathic manipulative therapy on reducing headache intensity and frequency. These findings highlight the holistic approach of osteopathy in addressing musculoskeletal imbalances, reducing muscle tension, and improving overall body mechanics for effective tension headache management.


Migraine Headaches: Often Misdiagnosed and Poorly Managed


Migraine headaches are debilitating and often accompanied by symptoms like nausea, sensitivity to light, and visual disturbances. Often patients with intense headaches are misdiagnosed as suffering from migraines. Osteopathic treatment has been shown to be effective in reducing pain intensity, frequency, and disability in patients with migraines. Studies have found that osteopathic manipulative treatment is effective in improving the quality of life in migraine patients as compared to sham therapy and usual care (Cerritelli et al., 2015) as well as providing significant improvements in pain and function compared to drug and sham therapy groups (Cerritelli et al., 2013). Suggesting that OMT can be considered a valid treatment option for migraines.


There are a number of ways osteopaths approach the treatment of migraines. One of the tools your Osteopath may implement is manipulative therapy: This involves stretching the joints and ligaments of the body to improve blood flow and reduce muscle tension. Another approach to treat migraines is Cranial Osteopathy, a gentle form of manipulation that focuses on the bones of the skull and spine to relieve pressure and improve circulation. Osteopaths will also use soft tissue techniques, which involve massage and other techniques to relieve muscle tension and improve circulation, as well as lifestyle changes.


Cervicogenic Headaches: What a Pain in the Neck


Cervicogenic headaches are typically caused by musculoskeletal dysfunction in the neck region. Techniques such as spinal manipulation, soft tissue manipulation, and myofascial release target the underlying neck and cervical spine issues. Research has shown that OMT can reduce pain intensity, frequency, and duration of cervicogenic headaches. It helps improve cervical mobility, reduce muscle tension, and restore proper alignment, leading to symptom relief and improved overall well-being. Osteopathy offers a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of cervicogenic headaches, making it a promising option for individuals seeking effective and natural management strategies.


Cluster Headaches: Expert Care for Intense, Cyclical Headaches


Cluster headaches are a severe type of headache that can be difficult to treat. Osteopathic treatment for cluster headaches may involve a combination of medication and manipulative therapy. Existing evidence suggests osteopathy's potential effectiveness in managing cluster headaches. Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) involves stretching the joints and ligaments of the body to improve blood flow and reduce muscle tension. This osteopathic approach has shown promise in reducing pain intensity, frequency, and duration of headaches. Soft tissue techniques may also be performed, these involve massage and other techniques to relieve muscle tension and improve circulation. Your Osteopaths may also recommend stress-reducing techniques and other lifestyle changes to prevent future episodes of cluster headaches. Although further research on osteopathy specifically for cluster headaches is needed, these findings suggest that osteopathy may offer a holistic approach to managing cluster headaches and improving overall well-being.


Sinus Headaches: Addressing Sinus Inflammation and Congestion


Sinus headaches are often associated with sinus inflammation and congestion caused by allergies or sinus infections. At Movement Mechanics Osteopathy, our experienced osteopaths focus on improving overall sinus and cranial function may have potential benefits. Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) techniques, including sinus drainage and manual therapy, can help address underlying sinus inflammation and congestion. OMT may alleviate sinus headache symptoms by improving sinus drainage and promoting optimal cranial mobility. While further research is needed, the holistic approach of osteopathy may offer valuable complementary support for individuals experiencing sinus headaches, enhancing overall sinus health and well-being.


Post-traumatic headaches: From Whiplash To Concussion


Post-traumatic headaches (PTHA) are secondary headaches that develop within seven days after trauma or injury or seven days after regaining consciousness following head trauma (Tessler & Horn, 2023; American Migraine Foundation, 2016; Ashina et al., 2019). Osteopathic treatment, specifically cranial manipulation and OMT has been found to be effective in managing post-traumatic headaches and whiplash. PTHA is a common sequela of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and can progress to chronic and possibly debilitating conditions. The symptoms of PTHA can vary widely, and there are no typical characteristics. PTHA can feel like a migraine or tension-type headache, and the pain can be mild to severe. The headache pain won't pulse can be constant or only happen occasionally. The muscle tensing that goes on during the injury or the narrowing of blood vessels that keep blood from flowing to the head like it normally does can cause PTHA.


Osteopathic treatment, specifically cranial manipulation and OMT has been found to be effective in managing post-traumatic headaches and whiplash. Cranial manipulation has been shown to be effective in the treatment of headaches and cervical pain (Parravicini & Ghiringhelli., 2021). OMT has been found to be effective in improving neck pain and various types of headaches. An osteopathic approach to treatment for whiplash will include helping to reduce any inflammation and pain of the affected area/s. Craniosacral therapy, a type of osteopathic treatment, is a great approach to treating concussions and whiplash as it helps cerebrospinal fluid to circulate better.


Osteopathy offers a holistic and individualised approach to headache relief, addressing musculoskeletal imbalances and promoting overall well-being. Many patients have experienced positive outcomes from Osteopathic treatment for their headaches, but more importantly, the correct diagnosis by your Osteopath can help get to the cause of your headache efficiently. If you’re struggling with frequent or severe headaches, consulting an Osteopath could be a valuable step towards finding relief and improving your quality of life.


Each patient is unique, and treatment approaches may vary. Osteopathy continues to evolve, and ongoing high-quality research is necessary to further validate its effectiveness in treating different types of headaches.

 

Jonathan Hall M.Ost, GradDipHeal, BAppSci (HB)

Jonathan Hall is the founder and principal Osteopath at Movement Mechanics Osteopathy, a fully qualified Osteopath and currently studying Western Medical Acupuncture out of AUT New Zealand.


Ashina, H., Porreca, F., Anderson, T., Amin, F. M., Ashina, M., Schytz, H. W., & Dodick, D. W. (2019). Post-traumatic headache: epidemiology and pathophysiological insights. Nature reviews. Neurology, 15(10), 607–617. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41582-019-0243-8


Cerritelli, F., Caprari, E., Di Vincenzo, M., Ginevri, L. R., Messi, G., Renzetti, C., Cozzolino, V., Frattesi, C., Barlafante, G., & Foschi, N. (2013). Is osteopathic manipulative treatment effective in migraine? International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijosm.2013.01.001


Cerritelli, F., Ginevri, L., Messi, G., Caprari, E., Di Vincenzo, M., Renzetti, C., Cozzolino, V., Barlafante, G., Foschi, N., & Provinciali, L. (2015). Clinical effectiveness of osteopathic treatment in chronic migraine: 3-Armed randomized controlled trial. Complementary therapies in medicine, 23(2), 149–156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2015.01.011


Parravicini, G., & Ghiringhelli, M. (2021). Osteopathic Cranial Manipulation for a Patient With Whiplash-Associated Disorder: A Case Report. Journal of chiropractic medicine, 20(3), 163–169. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2021.12.003


Tessler J, Horn LJ. Posttraumatic Headache. [Updated 2023 Jan 9]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556134/













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