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  • Brixton Therapy Centre

Headaches and Migraine: What's the Difference and Can Osteopathy Help?

Everybody gets headaches now and again but if they are frequent, severe, or are accompanied by other symptoms then they can cause major disruption to everyday life and lead to other health issues.

Headache vs Migraine: What’s the Difference?


Headaches usually have a discoverable cause common causes include; eyestrain, bright lights, stress, musculoskeletal problems especially in the back or neck, sinus issues, physical exertion, lack of sleep, dehydration and hunger.

Some common types of headaches include sinus headaches, tension headaches and cluster headaches.

Sinus Headaches

These are commonly experienced with or following a cold and are caused by congestion and swelling in the sinuses. Sinus headaches are often throbbing and accompanied by pain in the face, eyes and forehead. They are also usually more acute first thing in the morning and when bending

Tension Headaches

Sometimes described as being like a pressing down pain or like a tight band around the head, tension headaches are commonly caused by muscle tension, stress, or bright lights. Pains are usually on both sides of the head and may be accompanied by neck pain.

Cluster Headaches

These are the groundhog day of headaches with them commonly being felt in the same area and at the same time/s of day, month or year for days at a time. Bright lights, physical exertion and altitude are some of the triggers but many sufferers are unable to pinpoint a trigger. The cause is understood to be related to the presence of serotonin and/or histamines in the brain causing dilation of blood vessels.


A migraine is not, as is commonly thought, a headache. Although headaches ranging from mild to debilitating are sometimes a symptom of migraine.

Other symptoms of migraine include:

  • Sensory disturbances often called ‘auras’ that can be flashing lights, blind spots, hearing sounds, experiencing slurred speech or other examples of loss of motor control.

  • Sensitivity to light and sound.

  • Dizziness.

  • Exhaustion and extreme tiredness.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

Causes of Migraine

The jury is still out on what causes migraine, although it is thought to be linked with abnormal brain activity. Specifically the widening of blood vessels in and around the brain.

However, many things are thought to be potential migraine triggers including diet, hormones, environment, emotional stress and physical strain.

Migraine sufferers are encouraged to keep a diary to help them identify their trigger/s.

Some commonly reported triggers are:

  • Hormonal changes, particular stages of a woman’s cycle, or the onset of periods, pregnancy or menopause. When migraine occur regularly just before a woman’s period, these are specifically called pre-menstrual migraine.

  • Foods containing tyramine; including some cheeses, yeast extract, cured or smoked meat and fish and pickled herrings.

  • Alcohol.

  • Caffeine.

  • Smoking or being in a smoky environment.

  • Stress, anxiety and depression.

  • Dehydration.

  • Lack of sleep.

  • Lack of fresh air.

  • Hunger and/or irregular/skipped meals.

  • Flickering lights.

  • Excessive screen time.

  • The contraceptive pill.

  • Some sleeping tablets.

  • Some specific foods such as chocolate, citrus fruits, soy and cultured dairy products.

Treatment for Headaches and Migraine

A healthy lifestyle that includes not smoking, limiting processed foods, caffeine and alcohol, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, exercising and practising good posture and limiting screen time can be of assistance with preventing both headaches and, it is thought, migraine as well.

Being aware of what triggers or causes migraine and headaches for you as an individual is an important step in managing both headaches and migraine.

However, as well as self-awareness and making positive lifestyle changes osteopathic treatments can provide relief from headaches. Recent trials also suggest osteopathy is a valuable treatment for migraine too.

Osteopathy for Tension Headaches

A visit to an osteopath can help alleviate and cure tension headaches.

Your osteopathic practitioner will begin with an examination and diagnosis. This will help them to find which muscle tightness might be causing the tension headaches and/or discover which muscles have become tight and are holding tension as a result of the headaches.

Much of the tension that causes tension headaches stems from the neck, shoulders, and back. This is why neck pain is commonly experienced alongside these types of headaches. Osteopathic treatment includes massage, gentle traction and counterstrain techniques which stretch and relax muscles and joints to relieve and release the tension that is the common cause of tension headaches. Your osteopath will also be able to give you stretches and exercises to do yourself as well as provide advice on ergonomics and posture which will help prevent tension headaches in the future.

Osteopathy for Cluster Headaches

The cause of cluster headaches means that osteopathy along with many other treatments is unlikely to be able to effectively treat the cause.

However, the stresses and strains that these painful and recurrent headaches place on the body can be helped by osteopathic treatments so we can help you manage the symptoms of cluster headaches.

The manipulation, moving, stretching and massaging involved in osteopathic treatment supports the body’s own healing processes. It helps reduce stress and relieve the musculoskeletal tension that is a result of experiencing pain.

Osteopathy for Sinus Headaches Cranial osteopathic treatment can gently manipulate the bones and structures of the face including those which surround the sinus cavities and passages. This helps to relieve pressure and encourages the sinuses to drain naturally. This is unlike many sinus pain relieving medications which seek to dry out the sinus passages which only provide a temporary alleviation of symptoms.

Osteopathy for Migraine

Both cranial osteopathy and osteopathy can have beneficial effects for sufferers of migraine although, as with Cluster headaches, it is unlikely to be able to provide a cure.

Also, due to the individual nature of migraine and migraine symptoms, the effects of osteopathy on migraine symptoms and effects are individual as well.

The kind of migraine symptoms and effects that osteopathy can provide some relief of include improving sleep, alleviating muscle tension and aligning joints which have been pulled out of place by the tight muscles that pain often causes.

Osteopathy can also relieve the insomnia and nausea that are often symptoms of migraine.

Some migraine sufferers have reported excellent results from osteopathic treatment leading to a lessening or prevention of migraine symptoms. The holistic nature of osteopathy and the correction of imbalances within the body are thought to be the reason for the excellent results that some people see from osteopathic treatment for migraine and associated symptoms.

However, as yet, there have not been sufficient clinical trials to prove this.

What’s Next?

If you or someone you know is suffering from migraine or regular headaches or intense headaches that are affecting quality of life and/or day-to-day activities then it is recommended that you speak to your GP as the first port of call to eliminate anything more sinister as well as to get advice on treatment options.

Following this please do get in touch with us at Brixton Therapy Centre to discuss the best course of treatment for you as an individual.

We can support you to decide which type of treatment and which member of our dedicated, highly qualified and professional team is going to be your best option.

The next step will be to attend an initial consultation to assess, diagnose and create a treatment plan.

We look forward to helping you or your loved ones manage headaches and migraine.

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