Acupuncture Headaches Physio

Headaches – Physio and Acupuncture

A Headache is a pain in the head due to varying causes. Headaches may result from any number of factors, including tension; muscle contraction; vascular problems; withdrawal from certain medications; abscesses; or injury.

Headaches fall into three main categories:

Cervicogenic, Tension-type and Migraine.

  • Cervicogenic or Neck-related headaches are the most recently diagnosed type of headache and are musculoskeletal in nature. They may be caused by pain in the neck or spine that is transferred to the head. Many times, neck related headaches go undiagnosed because of their recent classification.
  • Tension-type headaches are the most frequent. Patients who endure tension-type headaches usually feel mild to moderate pain on both sides of the head. The pain is usually described as tight, stiff or constricting as if something is being wrapped around your head and squeezed tightly.
  • Migraines affect far fewer people than tension-type headaches and have a much shorter duration, their symptoms are much more severe. They typically affect women more frequently than men, with pain that usually occurs on one side of the head. Migraines can be so severe that they can cause loss of appetite, blurred vision, nausea and even vomiting.

Who suffers from Headaches?

Nearly everyone will suffer a headache at some point in time. They are one of the most common physical complaints that prompt people to treat themselves or seek professional assistance. Some estimates say that up to 15% of Britain’s suffer from severe, long-lasting, recurring headaches. While most headaches are not necessarily symptomatic of another condition, they can be very distracting and account for significant amounts of time lost from work. It is estimated that 25 million days lost from work or school every year because of a migraine.


What can Physiotherapy do to help Headaches?

Neck-related headaches can be treated with a range of manual therapy techniques. Palpating the cervical spine can often reproduce the symptoms to help us to find out where they are coming from. Exercises, Massage and postural advice and adaptations can also be really beneficial in managing long-term pain.

Leah attended a course run by Dean Watson a few years ago who’s approach is based on examining the upper cervical spinal segments for dysfunction, using slow, sustained, passive movement and positioning.

His theory proposes that if there is mechanical dysfunction, then mobilisation will first reproduce the familiar head pain and its associated features, but that this pain will then lessen as the technique is sustained. It is the reproduction of a headache, through manipulation by a physiotherapist, that is considered to be a key diagnostic of cervicogenic headache.

What can Acupuncture do for Headaches?

Acupuncture has long been used to treat headaches. But until recently, there hadn’t been strong evidence to support its use. Two recent large scientific reviews have changed that. One review found that acupuncture may help people with episodic or chronic tension headaches. The other review found that acupuncture may prevent migraines as well as or better than medications.

The migraine review found evidence that getting regular acupuncture treatments in addition to typical migraine treatments (such as taking painkillers) cut the frequency of migraines. Also, when acupuncture was compared to taking a preventive drug, people who received acupuncture improved more and had fewer side effects than those taking medications.

How does Acupuncture work?

According to traditional Chinese beliefs, acupuncture works by affecting the flow of energy, called “qi,” through pathways that run through the body. The physio inserts very fine needles at specific points along these pathways.

Serotonin and Beta-endorphin levels change during Acupuncture which may improve the symptoms. There is also the power of the therapeutic ritual; Raised beta-endorphin levels are seen in people who respond positively (reduced pain) to placebo interventions – including acupuncture – compared with those who don’t. There is also an analgesic ‘placebo’ effect which can be enhanced by the patient – therapist interaction

Acupuncture has many variations. It typically involves four to 10 needles that are left in place for 10 to 30 minutes. A course of treatment may include six to 12 sessions. Most people report that acupuncture needles cause little or no pain.

Are there any side effects?

Unlike synthetic drugs, acupuncture has virtually no side effects.

To read more about patient experiences with Headaches and Physio click on

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