Headaches are extremely common, with more than 10 million people in the UK experiencing regular headaches. For some people there are drastic affects on their quality of life, losing significant social and work time due to their suffering.
In many cases headaches can be managed and should not be accepted as a lifelong condition. So in light of this I have summarised my top 5 tips for eliminating headaches.
1. Consult your GP and Physiotherapist
There are many types of headaches and we are trained to differentiate between these. Different types regularly seen include:
- Cervicogenic headaches (those originating from the upper neck)
- Temporomandibular joint headaches (those originating from the jaw)
- Tension-Type headaches
Physiotherapy can help with the management of all headaches but particularly those that are related to the neck and jaw. Evidence shows that 70% of headaches present with neck symptoms so there is a lot your physiotherapist can do to help you.
Your physiotherapist will give you a diagnosis, and management will often consist of a number of techniques including massage, joint mobilisation or manipulation, dry needling and traction, alongside education and a structured exercise program.
2. Do Your Exercises
There is mounting evidence to show that those suffering from recurrent headaches display muscular dysfunction in the upper body, poor posture and reduced neck and upper back mobility. By targeting these, you will be reducing your susceptibility to headaches. Your Physiotherapist will formulate an exercise program for you which is tailored to target your individual condition. Clinical Pilates is a great way to complete your rehabilitation under the guidance of a physiotherapist.
A great way to supplement your exercise program is with the use of spikey balls for self-massage and heat packs as needed.
3. Be Posturally Aware
Do you ever find yourself driving and realise your head is stooped over the steering wheel? This forward head posture is a common occurrence in neck-related headaches. The position of your shoulder blades, due to their muscular attachments to the neck, can also affect your headaches. My three main cues for correcting your posture whilst sitting are:
- Imagine a balloon is attached to the back of your head, tuck your chin in and lengthen through the back of the neck
- Lift through the chest
- Widen through the collar bones and imagine the tips of your shoulder blades are making contact with the ribcage
4. Know Your Triggers
Understand your headaches better and eliminate a potential headache before it sets in. Common triggers for headaches are long drives, extended periods at desks, certain foods and even hormones. If you find you always end up with a headache after a long day at work, then ask for an ergonomic assessment of your workspace and make sure you take regular breaks from your desk.
A good way to understand your headaches better are to keep a headache diary, noting down onset, duration, intensity and location, and what you were doing before the headache came on.
5. Change your Pillow
For those who wake up with a stiff neck or headache, changing your pillow can have a huge effect on headaches. Contour pillows tend to give the most support, keeping your neck in neutral alignment according to your preferred sleeping position, and providing neck support. Speak to your Physiotherapist for recommendations and fitting for the perfect pillow and night’s sleep.
Remember, early intervention is best, and if in doubt, consult your GP.
Jessica Kostos, Physiotherapist at APPI Health Group Wimbledon