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Headache, a common nervous system disorder

A headache is one of the most common nervous system disorders: WHO estimates that half of the adult population has had at least one headache in the past year.

Headaches of primary origin (which are not secondary to another health problem), are mainly classified into two groups: tension headaches and migraines. In these two groups, we also find different origins.

Tension headaches

They are characterized by the sensation of pressure around the skull, “in bandage”, described as a tension coming from the neck and going up in the skull, and often associated with neck and/or shoulders pains. There is often a context of stress, anxiety, lack of sleep or overwork.



Often appear in adolescence, and more often in women than in men, it is a set of symptoms including headaches. Seizures often only affect one side of the head, are progressive in appearance, sometimes pulsating, increase in effort, exposure to light or noise. They are also subject to hormonal changes (adolescence, contraception, pregnancy, menopause …) and may be accompanied by nausea or even vomiting.

Mixed headache:
These are headaches where we will find the symptoms of tension headaches and migraines, which is quite common.

Osteopathy and headaches

Regardless of the type of a headache, the osteopathy session begins with a complete interrogation, then the osteopath will perform a series of tests to better identify the causes and the functioning of the pain, and find areas of reduced mobility.

Loss of mobility and tension in the skull, neck, back, shoulders, or pelvis will often be found. As in osteopathy, the principle is to treat the area at the origin of the problem, don’t be surprised if the practitioner begins by treating an area far away from the painful place. Each session is completely personalized, so each treatment is different.


The origins of headaches

headaches can come from trauma, even old. For example, the whiplash, which often affects the base of the skull and cervical vertebrae, after a car accident. Even years later, if untreated, significant mobility restrictions can be found in the area, which creates tension on the membranes inside the skull, causing the pain.
A concussion can also cause persistent headaches. When the brain hits the brain cavity, it can create tension in the cranial membranes and lock the joints of the cervical or skull. By working on it, blood circulation is improved, and the body can repair damaged tissue and return to normal function without pain.

that is to say that a blockage of the joints and a muscular tension is at the origin of the pain. This is particularly the case of tension headaches. It may be a clenching of teeth, a mobility disorder of the pelvis, lower back, or spine. It will then be necessary to restore articular mobility to the places that need it most, which will reduce compensatory tensions in the cervical and skull areas.

This is often the case of migraines. Mechanical restriction can affect the entry or exit of blood at the base of the skull. The result is pulsatile migraines, or feeling of heaviness. This type of migraine can also give pain around or behind the eye.

this is also often the case of migraines in women. Pain usually appears during adolescence and depends on the period. It can change depending on contraceptive use, pregnancy, and menopause. There is often a genetic part, and we find several women suffering from it in the maternal line. In osteopathy, we will release the structures related to the secretion of female hormones. Good articular mobility and blood circulation is essential to rebalance the hormonal cycle and reduce migraines.

a blockage in the neck can compress a cervical nerve and give headaches. This is the case, for example, in Arnold’s neuralgia: Arnold’s nerve is derived from the second cervical root (C2). It innervates the deep muscles of the neck and acts on two levels: on the motor level (mobility of the neck) and on the sensory level (allows to feel the scalp). The pains will be superficial and only on one side, from the base of the skull to the forehead. A headache will be relieved by treating the mobility restriction compressive the nerve.

Chronic stress can affect the whole body, and unbalance the hormonal and immune systems, or disrupt blood pressure. Lack of sleep or psychological trauma are also important stressors.
Tensions are often found in the jaws (clenching of teeth), or around the diaphragm (the main muscle of breathing, which separates the thorax from the abdomen), or in the shoulders. There may also be stomach pain or chest tightness, palpitations … Osteopathy can help reduce the physical signs of stress, which allows better management of its cause. In addition to treatment, the practitioner can provide stress management tips, for example by working on breathing.

An infection of sinus can give headaches, on one or both sides, above, below, or behind the eyes. If the origin is a problem of mobility of the skull or its tissues, then the sinusitis can become chronic, and the headaches settle down. Cranial techniques can improve the sinus drainage, so the body can get rid of the infection.


Let’s see some examples

A patient has neck pain and headaches for years.
During the interrogation, we find pregnancy and childbirth that coincide with the beginning of pain. There are also regular genes in the pelvis and lower back. In this case, the treatment will first consist in restoring mobility to the tissues of the pelvis and lower back, to allow the neck not to undergo tensions from below. The range of cervical motion is improved, there is less tension, so less pain. Local treatment of the cervical and skull will close the session.

A patient complains of headaches, in the context of work stress.
There is little mobility in the diaphragm (the main muscle of breathing). By breathing more effectively after the session, tension in the neck and shoulders diminishes, and headaches subside. After also working locally on the cervical and skull, the osteopath can give recommendations and exercises to reduce the effects of stress.
– a student complains of migraines after a long period of revision. During the interrogation, we see that the pain increases while working on the computer and that he wears glasses that have not been revised for 3 years. The medical and osteopathic tests reveal mainly cervical mobility restrictions, and muscle tensions accommodating vision. The treatment will restore mobility to the skull and cervical spine, and the patient will be encouraged to consult their optician to verify that the correction level of the glasses is adequate.


    Maud Clément

    Autoriseret osteopat

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