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Man sitting at an outdoor table holding his head in pain
Man sitting at an outdoor table holding his head in pain
Man sitting at an outdoor table holding his head in pain

by Adam Brown
updated July 17, 2020

There are many types of pain that we see in the Physiotherapy clinic every day. But few of them affect a person’s quality of life and productivity the way that chronic headaches do. Thousands of people suffer from headaches every day, and most try to alleviate their pain with medications, with varying results.

There are numerous causes of headaches ranging from migraines (vascular) to eye strain. While medication and an updated eyeglass prescription can make all the difference in these cases, there is another common type of headache that physiotherapists see and have a high degree of success treating. Research has shown that the joints of your upper neck, the discs of your lower neck, and the muscle tissue that stabilizes the head and spine can cause headaches. Clinicians call them “Cervicogenic Headaches”. A skilled Physiotherapist can diagnose and treat them very effectively.

So how do you know if your headache is related to your neck?

Here are a few clues:

• Does your headache begin with pain at the base of your skull and progress to include your head as it worsens?
• Is your headache commonly felt on only one side of your head?
• Does your pain get worse as the day progresses – especially when you are engaged in lots of sitting or computer work?

These questions and a thorough examination by your Physiotherapist can help to establish if physiotherapy treatment is likely to provide relief.

Some clues that your headaches may not be cervicogenic are:

• The presence of “Aura’s” or visual disturbances prior to your headache.
• Light or sound hyper-sensitivity.
• Pain that involves the entire head or that awakens you from sleeping.

If this sounds like you – your family physician can help to further diagnose your headache.

So how do Physiotherapists treat headaches?

A skilled physiotherapist will begin by establishing the primary source of your pain and tailoring treatment to alleviate symptoms. Some of the techniques that are commonly successful are;

• Manual therapy to restore normal joint mobility.
• Specialized strengthening exercises designed to target muscles that stabilize and control the affected joints.
• Soft tissue treatment techniques to alleviate trigger points.
• Postural exercises to help you to avoid the positions that produce your problem in the first place.
• Ergonomic advice to ensure that your environment (such as your desk set-up) is not a major contributor to your problem.

For more information on treatment of cervicogenic headaches check out this post by our colleagues at Physiohaus in London, Ontario.

If you are regularly suffering from headache pain, seek out a qualified Physiotherapist with experience treating this condition. All of our clinicians at Cornerstone Physiotherapy have undergone specialized training in the assessment and treatment of cervicogenic headaches. So if you are in the Greater Toronto area, don’t delay, give us a call to set up your assessment today.

Adam Brown

Adam Brown        MClScPT
Registered Physiotherapist

Adam is a highly experienced physiotherapist, successfully treating patients with a variety of complex injuries since graduating in 2002. He is a co-founder of the well-regarded Cornerstone Physiotherapy Clinics with locations through the Greater Toronto Area. He enjoys mentoring and educating orthopaedic physiotherapists and contributing to rehabilitation research studies.


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