Tension Headaches

What is a headache and how can we treat it with Osteopathy?

Headaches we’ve all had one at some point, there very common and because they happen regularly, often people refer to them as “just a normal headache” or commonly a “tension headache”. They feel like a constant ache that affects both sides of the head, often described as a tight band is stretched around it.

A tension headache normally won’t be severe enough to prevent you doing everyday activities. They usually last for 30 minutes to several hours, but can last for several days. The exact cause is unclear, but tension headaches have been linked to things such as stress, poor posture, skipping meals and dehydration.

Tension headaches can usually be treated with ordinary painkillers such as  paracetamol and ibuprofen. Lifestyle changes, such as getting regular sleep, reducing stress and staying well hydrated, may also help, stress and posture are amongst the biggest contributors and for many people osteopathy treatment can be a very effective way of treating headaches.

One of the most common types of headache that osteopaths see is called cervicogenic headache. Headaches can be very severe and often have a profound effect on the lives of headache sufferers. Interestingly the pain you feel when suffering from a headache does not come from the brain as the brain itself does not feel pain. This is why during brain surgery a patient can be wide awake and not feel any pain and can talk to the surgeons. The scalp itself is pain sensitive and the surgeon uses an anaesthetic to numb this area whilst the surgery progresses. The pain sensitive structures are all the other parts including the blood vessels, membranes, and the nerves. If these structures are irritated and inflamed then often a headache will result.
The neck has a number of nerves that travel over the skull and if these nerves are irritated they will refer pain into the head.

What is a cervicogenic headache?

A cervicogenic headache can be caused by poor postural and other influences and misalignments in the neck (the cervical spine) and can also result from an absence of mobility (stiff neck) in the upper cervical area. The term is used to refer to headaches where the primary causative agent is the neck. Pain may radiate to the forehead (frontal region), the eyes (orbital region), the temple and the ears.

Cervicogenic Headache Causes

The current theory is that abnormal movements and postures of the neck result in irritation to the upper 3 cervical nerve roots. Pain referral can be from muscles, ligaments, joint capsules and discs. Osteopathic care is thought to be very helpful for this type of headache because it can improve the mobility of the source directly.

How do we assess for Headaches?

Firstly an initial consultation including past and current lifestyle, if necessary an X-Rays or MRi scan may be requested.
Next comes the assessment, looking at your whole musculoskeletal system and body mechanics. A neck assessment help find the underlying causes/influences of the headaches.

The pain in headaches can vary in its location, intensity, duration and type. Neck and head pain can be on one side or on both sides. The pain can be referred to the side front and top of head. The pain is caused and aggravated by abnormal neck postures and movements such as sitting at a computer or working overhead all too common and constantly discussed in the clinic.

With a physical examination we look at:
•General posture and flexibility
•Palpation (feeling the tension via touch in the neck) may reveal muscle tenderness and tightness
•Palpation to the muscles can sometime reproduce pain patterns
•Movement using active and passive motions to assess the joint range of motion particularly in the upper cervical spine (neck)
•Specific orthopaedic tests to the neck
•Muscle tests to determine the extent of weakness/strength and balance
•Neurological assessment if required (test the nerves and there function)
•X-rays or MRi’s maybe requested depending on the extent of your problems and the examination findings.
•Your Osteopath will discuss your findings and outline a plan of examination with your consent.
•Once a diagnosis has been confirmed treatment options can be discussed and implemented.


Osteopathic Treatment for headaches can include various techniques such as massage/manipulation/mobilisation and movements. The manipulations are designed to correct identified problems and allow you to regain movement which helps reduce headaches and other associated pain. Massage, Mobility, stretching and rehabilitation exercises are used to help the muscle function and help you correct your posture.
The treatment will pay particular attention to the neck (upper cervical and sub occipital) region but it if there are other underlying areas of concern within the spine they are dealt with as well. Many of our patients have had relief from their headaches through osteopathic treatment, a natural drug free approach.

Deansgate Osteopathic Clinic
152 Deansgate
Bolton, BL1 1BB
Tel:01204 522 133
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