Can physiotherapy help headaches?
Headaches are one of the most common, and often debilitating, health problems that almost every person has experienced and can relate to. But other than taking an Aspirin, what do most people do to help get rid of headaches if they become a chronic and enduring problem? Usually when pain becomes a persistent and returning issue, for example in our arm or maybe neck, we automatically think about going to a physiotherapist. But people often don’t consider going to a physiotherapist for chronic headache problems. Why is this?
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 get back to life. But physiotherapy can be much more than just bone, joint, and muscle manipulation. After all, aren’t our bodies made up of more than just muscles, joints, and bones?
We are beginning to see an expansion of the physiotherapy practice beyond this previous way of concrete thinking. 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 been often 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.
So how does this relate to headaches? There can be numerous causes for chronic headaches. However, sometimes 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 - possibly by restricting blood flow and cerebral spinal fluid, causing inflammation and a build up of fluid pressure etc.. 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 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 is 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 communication 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 we are still only just beginning to understand their inner workings. Although these techniques may work for one person, they may not work for another and we are not entirely sure why. However, the growing popularity and amount of literature on both Myofascial Release and Craniosacral therapy should be a testament of its ability to sometimes offer an effective remedy for the pain.