Can physiotherapy help headaches?

Monday, Sep. 9, 2019

*This article was originally published by Neurologic Physiotherapy, which is part of the Lifemark family. We are republishing it here with permission.

Headaches are one of the most common, and often debilitating, health problems that almost every person has experienced and can relate to. But besides taking an Aspirin, what can you do to get rid of headaches when they become a chronic and enduring problem?

Generally, when pain becomes a persistent problem, such as in one arm or in the neck region, we consider scheduling an appointment with a physiotherapist. But when the pain is in the form of chronic headache problems, going to see a physiotherapist doesn’t immediately come to mind. Why is that?

An expansion of the physiotherapy practice

Most people generally associate physiotherapy with bone, joint and muscle manipulation. If someone’s leg was hurt while running, they go to a physiotherapist to reduce the inflammation and strengthen their leg again in order to resume their normal level of activity.

But physiotherapy can be much more than this, which is why we are beginning to see an expansion of the physiotherapy practice.

Many physiotherapists have incorporated new methods of treatment into their practice that focus on two systems of connective tissue in the body that, until recently, have often been overlooked - the fascial system and the craniosacral system. These physiotherapists are advocates for the importance of coherence in these systems in our body and the true role they play in our everyday health and well-being. So how do they work with these systems?

Many physiotherapists are becoming practiced in Myofascial Release Therapy (MFR) and Craniosacral Therapy (CST). Myofascial Release Therapy (MFR) manipulates the fascial system while Craniosacral (CST) works with the cranial system which is embedded within and integrally part of the fascial system.

Both therapies are similar in principle, but also vastly different. They operate around the premise that restrictions can form in the connective tissues in our body. These restrictions can form through repetitive stress injuries, inflammatory reactions, effects of gravity on a poorly aligned body, life stressors, emotional holding and trauma.

When restrictions form, they hinder the body in functioning naturally - sometimes by causing improper movement, altered posture and alignment, and restrictions in blood flow, lymphatic flow, digestion, respiration and other processes in the body.

Lifting the restrictions

So how does this relate to headaches?

While there can be numerous causes for chronic headaches, you should know that headaches can be a result of restrictions of the connective tissues in and surrounding the craniosacral system, such as around the skull. The craniosacral system is strongly interconnected with the central nervous system, brain and spinal cord.

These restrictions may hinder the body from working properly, such as by restricting blood flow and cerebral spinal fluid, causing inflammation and a build-up of fluid pressure. John Upledger, the founder of Craniosacral Therapy, summarizes these effects perfectly:

“..Virtually anything that interferes with the autonomic nervous control of the blood vessels in the head can result in a migraine. In general, CranioSacral Therapy does a very good job of normalizing autonomic nervous activity. It effectively mobilizes the membrane system within the head to take pressure off either the nerve that is controlling the blood vessel, or the blood vessel that may be causing the headache. It is also an effective stress reducer, which makes it particularly effective with migraines since they're often precipitated or triggered by stress....”

These restrictions may also exist elsewhere in the body. For example, although a person may have a headache, the restrictions may be present around the neck or down in the pelvis.

These restrictions may be interfering with the brain and spinal cord’s ability to communicate with the rest of the body. In this case, Craniosacral and Myofascial Release techniques may both be useful in helping to relieve the restrictions that are putting pressure on pain-sensitive structures.

Our bodies are immensely complicated and in many ways, we are still only just beginning to understand their inner workings. In some cases, Myofascial Release and Craniosacral therapy can offer a valuable and effective remedy for the pain, though we should note that no two bodies are exactly alike, so a treatment that’s effective for one body may not have the exact same effect on another. This is why physiotherapy is a collaborative process. If you’d like to schedule an appointment with a physiotherapist at a Lifemark clinic near you, go to our Locations page.


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