The World Health Organisation estimates that around 250 million working and school days are lost every year in the UK through headaches and migraines. These statistics reflect a loss to the economy – and to many individuals – but do not begin to reflect the misery brought about through the debilitating pain of migraine and headaches.
The Headache & Migraine Specialist network represents a growing alliance of clinical physiotherapists and neurologists who are dedicated to improving the quality of life of headache and migraine sufferers.
The Headache & Migraine Specialist network keeps abreast of all the latest research in the diagnosis and treatment of head pain. Combining traditional medical intervention with expert musculoskeletal diagnostics and treatment leads to a significant improvement of headaches and migraines for our patients.
When presented with a patient exhibiting recurrent headaches, most doctors will attempt to identify patterns and triggers to the onset of head pain. They may refer to a neurologist, or request CT or MRI scans, to rule out serious underlying causes. In many cases when no pre-existing injury or illness can be found, pain is often self-managed through over-the-counter remedies.
By focussing on the symptoms rather than the underlying cause, pain is likely to continue.
Research shows that there are a number of factors that contribute to the cause of headaches and migraine. Clusters of migraine sufferers within the same family point toward a genetic predisposition to headaches. Common reactions to certain food groups including caffeine, chocolate and red wine suggest environmental factors. The fact that pre-menopausal women are three times as likely to suffer from headaches and migraine than any other group – including post menopausal women – indicates a hormonal factor. Recent studies support anecdotal links between stress and migraine although it is interesting to find that migraine is more common following a stressful experience than during it.
One complicating factor is that migraine and headache is often the result of a combination of factors rather than having any single cause. Research suggests that to experience a headache or migraine, a threshold has to be reached. A single cup of coffee may not be enough to trigger a migraine on one day but that same single cup when combined with other factors may breach the threshold on another.
The latest research also suggests another factor in the cause of headaches and migraine that is often overlooked completely.
Tension, stress, musculoskeletal misalignments and injuries often cause pain in the muscles and tendons of the shoulders and neck. Pain signals in the neck and shoulders are sent to pain receptors in the brain through the cervical nerves in the upper vertebrae. These pain signals share synapses with the trigeminal nerves of the face and head and in many instances the brain misinterprets these pain signal, experiencing them as headache and migraine.
There are two simple ways of determining whether a headache and migraine has a cervicogenic cause. Can the pain be replicated by manipulation of the muscles and nerves in the neck and shoulder, and, more importantly, can headache and migraine be effectively treated through the use of skilled physiotherapy?
The simple answer is that up to 90% of patients suffering from headaches and migraines report significant benefits from physio-therapeutical treatment of neck and shoulders.
Physiotherapists within the Headache & Migraine Specialist network take a thorough medical history before beginning
any treatment. In some instances, patients may be referred back to their own GP for further assessment or referred on
to neurologists. Most headaches and migraines are not life-threatening but it is advisable to talk to your GP, especially
if you develop sudden or severe symptoms which are different from previous attacks.
Every patient is different and a specially trained headache and migraine physiotherapist will look at all aspects of
your medical history and lifestyle. Cervicogenic causes of headache can be determined by temporarily reproducing
the symptoms. Although uncomfortable this is short-lived and allows for more specific diagnosis and more effective
For patients with cervicogenic headaches, once the areas of dysfunction have been confirmed, carefully manipulating neck and shoulder muscles helps to ease the symptoms. With the correct treatment, most patients find the pattern and intensity of headaches starts to change very quickly.
Sports & Spinal Physio are one of the founding members of the Headache & Migraine Specialists network.
The Headache & Migraine Specialist network work with GP commissioning groups, clinics, health centres and hospitals to provide accurate diagnosis and treatment for head pain.
We are a growing organisation who share research, training and best practice. Membership is currently strongest in the South East of the UK and London and we are always happy to hear from medical practitioners – including physiotherapists – who may be interested in working with the Headache & Migraine Specialist network.