Reason 3 - The benefit of dedicated techniques
In reason 1 we saw that there are a lot of similarities in the way that the different headaches present. Their symptoms overlap significantly. This is because, as described in Reason 2, ALL major headache types have an overactive brainstem - with the neck having direct input into this area.
So why then if all this is so obvious, is the neck not the first port of call when someone presents with a new headache or migraine?
Quite simply, the reason why the neck is often ignored is because the traditional modalities (physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy and massage) have rarely offered more than short term relief. Of course there are exceptions, and no doubt there will be plenty of people willing to offer their testimonial for their local therapist who has "cured" them. For each of these there are 10 times the number who not been helped, been made worse, or had short term relief.
Traditional manual therapy approaches to the neck focus on local problems - muscle and joint dysfunction. The theory being, if it is coming from the neck, and you improve the neck problems it should get better. It often lacks the understanding of the nature of the problem, and treats symptoms rather than the underlying problem.
The techniques employed by the Melbourne Headache Centre have been developed SOLELY for the purpose of evaluating and treating the relationship between the structures in the neck and the headache/migraine. We don't treat neck pain as such.
The techniques allow us to very specifically and selectively stress each of the joints in the top part of the neck. As stress is applied we aim to temporarily reproduce the area of typical headpain. As the referred pain is produced the pressure is sustained, and after a short period of time the referred pain starts to ease off. This confirms the relevancy of the neck to the headache disorder, and the ability of the techniques to desensitise the neck. This is found in 80% of cases. Unlike traditional methods - we don't treat everyone that is assessed hoping they might get better. The 20% that do not have a clear association between the neck and symptoms are not offered treatment as they are unlikely to respond to it.
By working in a systematic way and using special movements we can not only pinpoint the exact level involved (i.e. C1, C2, C3) but the exact point on that vertebrae that is connected with the head pain. This allows great precision in application of techniques, rather that just stretch anything that is tight and loosen any joint that is stiff.
Not only do you get the benefit of dedicated headache specific techniques, but they are delivered by therapists who only treat headache and migraine. Using the same techniques all day just on headache and migraine conditions allows highly developed skill in the application of the techniques. This is as opposed to a therapist who spends half their day treating backs, knees, elbows, doing pilates etc, and then sometimes treating the odd headache.
What are you waiting for (apart from reasons 4 and 5!).
Check your neck. Call 03 8648 6487 today for your free phone consultation.
Roger O'Toole is the Director and Senior Clinician of the Melbourne Headache Clinic and has over 10 years experience as a physiotherapist.