Headache is a common problem and it is estimated by WHO that almost half of the adult population have had headache at least once in the year.
There are many different types of headaches according with it’s possible cause.
The most common are tension type, cervicogenic headache and migraine. This three types have different characteristics:
Tension type headache: The person refers the feeling of a tight band around the head and it’s often associated with muscles tightness in the head, jaw and neck. It can be related to emotional stress which triggers the ”fight and flight” response (physical stress response) realising on our system stress chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol. This chemicals make our muscles to tighten even more and be prepare to fight.
If the muscles cannot come back to a more relaxed state then the tension accumulated on them generate more pain and facilitates future episodes.
Neck headaches – often referred as cervicogenic headaches – have its origin in the upper cervical spine and the soft tissues related with the junction of the head and neck. It can be also related with other muscles which receive innervation from the Accessory nerve (esterno-cleido-mastoid and trapezius). These muscles are also hyperactive while the head is positioning forward and away from our centre of gravity. This habitual tendency on our posture provokes the neck muscles to be in overuse referring pain to the forehead and back of the eye. Other muscles that can refer pain to the head are the chewing muscles, when they are hyperactive, (for ex. bruxism) they become painful and tense.
The symptoms associated to cervicogenic headache are:
-Unilateral headache (but sometimes bilateral), restriction on head mobility, the pain can be reproduced by moving the head, touching different muscles from the neck or by pressing lightly on the interapophyseal joints of the upper cervical spine.
Migraines can result in severe throbbing or pulsing pain, usually on one side of the head. This is often associated with other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to both light and sound. Migraines can also occur with aura, which are disturbances of the nervous system. Examples of aura include experiencing flashes of light or blurred vision (visual disturbances), hearing noises or music (auditory disturbances), having pins and needles in a limb (sensory disturbances) and difficulty speaking (verbal disturbances). The causes of migraines are not well understood; however, it appears that genetics and environmental factors play an important role. Suggested causes include alterations in the brainstem and its interactions with the trigeminal nerve (an important pain pathway); and imbalances in brain chemicals, particularly serotonin. A number of factors can trigger migraines in different people. These include: certain foods (eg. salty or processed foods), stress, changes in sleeping patterns, exposure to sensory stimuli (eg. bright lights and sun glare) and certain medications. Also it is proved that neck muscles become hyperactive during the migraine episodes but they are not directly related with the cause, though they can make the pain worse.
I need to mention that many women suffer monthly of headache related with their period, this is important to bare in mind taking it more easy, because you can’t fight the hormones!
Unfortunately it is also possible to have more of one type of headache that they overlap.
HOW PHYSIOTHERAPY AND THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE CAN HELP
Basically both help in the same way, reducing the extra tension in the body and helping to find a better balance in our body. From my experience a combination of both could help to restore the mobility and function of the neck while helping you to avoid creating the extra tension during your daily life activities. As a mindful approach the Alexander Technique teaches you to inhibit your habitual harmful patterns and to apply new ways of thinking that will make you feel less anxious and more relaxed.
In any of these approaches the person need to have medical control, to make a proper use of medication and also to have a headache diary, which is very helpful to find triggers related with the headaches.