Experts report that headaches affect half of the population, with up to 25 per cent of headaches from the cervical spine or neck, known as cervicogenic headache (CGH). Several studies demonstrate the effectiveness of Osteopathic management for CGH, often involving a multi-modal treatment approach to address biomechanical dysfunction in the cervical spine that may contribute to or cause a patient’s headache.
Treatment options are:
SPINAL MANIPULATION THERAPY (SMT): There are several strategies or techniques of spinal manipulation to enhance joint mobility, which can be subdivided into two types: high velocity, low amplitude (thrust) where joint noise happens (called cavitation); and low velocity, low amplitude (non-thrust) where joint cavitation is not common. Some refer to the latter as “mobilisation.” Osteopaths frequently make use of both, but eventually, practitioner and patient choice determine the decision.
EXERCISE: Exercise on its own may not appear to be as successful as spinal stimulation, but when exercises — especially those affecting the deep flexors — are combined with SMT, the effects last longer and become more rewarding in the long run.
OCCIPITAL NERVE FLOSSING: CGH effects can be intensified by stress on the occipital nerve as it leaves the brain. The stress can be reduced by nerve flossing. The Osteopath raises the patient’s head whilst sitting on the ground with the face tucked under, then pushes the face into the chest to extend the muscle attachments at the base of the neck (which sometimes squeeze the nerves that trigger headaches) whilst the patient bends the knees to reach their collar bones. When the Osteopath lowers the patient’s shoulders, the patient stretches their elbows and wrists / hands toward the floor and drops their arms. That is sometimes replicated 5 to 10 times (depending on tolerance).
ACTIVITY (ERGONOMIC) ADVICE: This is where your Osteopath reviews your work place and interests, searching for opportunities to reduce the pressure on your neck and upper back. Forward head posture is very normal and he or she will show you how to correct the incorrect posture once identified — often by making small changes to your daily activities.
HOME CERVICAL TRACTION: Traction operates by pushing out joints and the vertebra. While you can do this in the office, you can do it at home much more frequently. An over-the-door unit works well. Typical treatment time is 15 minutes. A typical tolerance level is the steady rise in weight to a maximum acceptable point (10-15 lbs./4.5-6.8 kg). To get the best result, the “Int” is with RELAX.
Bottomline: When you experience headaches, then it might be helpful for you to visit an Osteopath to decide if the headaches could be induced or worsened by neck discomfort. If so, the Osteopath should also have a range of treatment options available to reduce the headaches‘ frequency and severity.