What actually causes Headaches?
Dr Michael Santamaria
You probably already know that there are many causes for headaches because headaches come in various intensities and durations. But let’s talk about some of the common headaches we see in the clinic.
This is probably the most common headache we see. When people are stressed due to many reasons such as work related issues, family matters or financial stress, we hold our bodies differently. Our posture suffers. We start to contract our muscles especially around the spine.
This stress manifests itself physically in tense muscles around the upper back and in between the shoulder blades as well as in the neck. The spinal cord in these areas can control pain in the shoulders, neck and head. So compressing or stiffening this part of the spine can create nerve signals that refer into the head and the muscles of the scalp.
These are headaches that arise from the neck. There can be some overlap with the Stress Headaches here but they can also be structurally-related such as Osteoarthritis causing nerve impingement and a dull ache at the back of the neck. Or a whiplash injury causing muscular spasms that create pain in the head. Another example might be rotation of one vertebra on another causing impingement of nerves or muscle strains that results in a headache.
The skull is full of sinuses, with the prominent ones being around the nose, forehead and cheek bones. Almost all of these sinuses have mucosal linings inside. The mucosa is innervated with hundreds of tiny nerve-endings. If the sinuses get infected or are blocked, these nerve-endings can become very irritated and can cause some intense headaches.
Migraine headaches can be a lot more complicated and often more severe in pain. The Autonomic Nervous system can create blood flow issues that can cause blurred vision, then a sudden headache as the body overcompensates with too much blood flow in the head. People may suffer over stimulation in the eyes with light-sensitivity and that can cause headaches. Stress and tension can play a part in setting off a domino-effect with the nervous system that can create highly irritable nerves and muscle tension.
Osteopathy and Headaches
Osteopathy tries to assess the nature of the headache and tries to understand the causative factors as well as the structural changes that have occurred. If tension in the surrounding tissues is eased, posture and alignment is often improved and then most headaches will respond. This can be done by manual therapy, exercises and lifestyle changes.