3 million people in Australia have experienced a headache. 50% of the world’s population have at least one headache per year, and 30% of these have experienced a migraine4.
There are over 300 types and causes of headaches. The most common forms are migraine, cluster, cervical/neck, and tension headaches2. It can be hard to tell the difference between headaches, so it is a good idea to get a diagnoses from a medical professional.
Speed of onset: Fast
Where: Frontal or temporal areas, one or both sides of head
Type of pain: Sharp, throbbing, pulsing
Dizziness or vertigo
Sensitivity to light or noise
Who gets migraines?
20% of people will have a migraine at some time in their life. They can happen once, or several times throughout your life. 50% of people who experience migraines have a family member who also experience them4. They are twice as common in women than men. Migraines usually start between 11-19 years old, but most affect those 35-45 years old4.
Causes of a migraine
Migraines are caused by the release of pain-producing inflammatory substances into the brain. This affects the nerves and blood vessels of the head4. The release of these substances can be triggered by many things, including:
Joint and muscle problems in the neck and jaw
Endocrine system changes due to oral contraceptive pills, pregnancy, puberty, menopause, or menstruation
Change in temperature or altitude
Change in activity
Changes in blood pressure
Alcohol, especially red wine
Food, especially chocolate, cheese, nuts
Too much or too little sleep
What is an aura?
This is a neurological response that can happen before or during a migraine. Some notice these symptoms a few days or immediately before a migraine begins. People describe auras as bright lights, blind spots in vision, numbness and tingling in arms or face, hyperactivity, yawning, depression, food cravings, or vertigo.
Speed of onset: Slow
Where: Base of the skull, both sides of the head
Type of pain: Tightness, pressure
Constancy: Episodic or constant
Mild sensitivity to light or noise
Who gets tension headaches?
Tension headaches affect 3 times as many women as men and usually begin between 11-19 years old4.
What causes tension headaches
Tension headaches are usually caused by tightness in the muscles of the face and neck, or by stiffness in the neck joints. This is often due to poor postures or high levels of stress.
Cluster headaches refer to headaches which happen in groups or clusters, with periods of relief in between.
Speed of onset: Fast
Where: Frontal or temporal areas surrounding the eye, one or both sides of the head
Type of pain: Burning or boring
Headache worsens with exercise
Increased forehead sweating
Who gets cluster headaches?
1 in 1000 adults will experience cluster headaches during their life, and they are 6 times more common in males than females4. Cluster headaches usually begin after the age of 20 years old.
Causes of a cluster headache
These headaches are thought to be due to changes to our ‘internal clock’ as regulated by the hypothalamus. Alcohol consumption has been suggested as a possible cause of these changes.
Speed of onset: Slow
Where: Occipital, retro-orbital, or temporal areas; one or both sides of the head
Type of pain: Dull ache
Neck pain or stiffness
Ringing in your ears
Who gets cervicogenic headaches?
Cervicogenic headaches usually begin between the ages of 20-60 years old.
Causes of a cervicogenic headache
Cervicogenic headaches are caused by abnormalities of the joints, muscles, and neural structures of the neck. These headaches are usually worsened with poor posture, exercise, and neck movement (Brukner & Khan; 2007).
Other types of headaches
Primary exertional headache brought on by and occurring during or after physical exertion.
Headaches induced by drugs, surgery, infections, trauma, or intracranial damage, or viral illness.
What will treatment for headaches involve?
Can physiotherapy help with headaches? YES!
When it comes to treating headaches, it is important to determine the cause of the problem. A Pivotal Motion physiotherapist will complete a thorough assessment of your symptoms and factors causing your pain. To help with the assessment, take note of the duration, location, and frequency of your headaches, as well as what the pain feels like. Based on the assessment, treatment may include: