Osteopathy and Headaches



Where to Find the Best Migraine Treatment in Melbourne, Malvern East or Chadstone



Migraines and headaches are some of the most debilitating conditions a human being can encounter. Almost 15% of the Australian population suffer from these medical conditions which result in low productivity, reduced sense of wellbeing and lots and lots of pain.

There are many treatment options available for getting rid of migraines and headaches. The field of osteopathy has its own treatment system that aims to alleviate migraine symptoms both in terms of intensity and frequency. In fact, osteopathy delivers a holistic and natural  option to treating migraines.

Osteopaths are chronic migraine experts

Spinal Manipulative Therapy  is one of the techniques of osteopathy that aims to treat the cause of headaches and migraine attacks, namely that related to your neck and spine. According to research, osteopathy can alleviate pain and discomfort caused by acute headache attacks and cervicogenic headaches.

The following osteopathy-based treatments can render good outcomes for patients:

To eliminate the pain and discomfort associated with a majority of headaches, hands-on manipulation techniques include:

  • Sub Occipital muscle decompression is an excellent intervention for migraine headaches. This technique involves the use of fingertips to stretch out the paraspinal tissues located at the base of the occiput.
  • Myofascial unwinding is an osteopathic solution that manually unwinds the fascia and tissues that interconnect into your neck, back and occiput.
  • The spasms caused by tension headaches can be significantly reduced through cervical massage of the paraspinal soft tissues.

Research has suggested manual therapy can be effective with chronic migraine and headache problems treated with manipulation and gentle muscular release techniques and may well have greater efficacy as popular headache medications which really only treat the symptoms, not the cause.  Although the effectiveness of manipulative treatments is less popular than the use of traditional headache medication, people are now leaning towards osteopathy for headache and migraine relief to avoid side-effects and for long-term cost effectiveness.

Nearly everyone has a headache at some stage of their life. Constant reoccurring headaches can become debilitating. There are many types of headaches so it is important to get a diagnosis from a qualified health professional.

The most common form of headache is a tension headache, affecting a third of men and half of women at some stage. Tension headache is usually brought on by an irritation or inflammation of pain sensitive structures in the head and neck.  The pain can feel like a dull ache, pressure and or tenderness in the head and neck. Osteopaths commonly treat tension headaches by releasing muscles and improving mobility though the joints of the head and neck.

Migraines are another common headache that can also be felt as dull or throbbing pain in the head or neck.  Migraines can have other symptoms with the headache including nausea, vomiting and changes in vision.  Although Osteopaths can assist in the management of migraines it is important to get headaches accompanied by these symptoms checked out by a G.P.

Headaches or head pain can also be felt as referred pain from other structures such as your jaw or muscles in your head and neck. This can be from trigger points or irritation within the muscle.  Osteopaths can help locate trigger points and treat the muscle and joint to relive your head pain.



Our Osteopaths regularly assess, diagnose and treat people experiencing headache and migraine.  Living with these conditions can be exhausting and tough.  People often think they have to live with them forever. If you have concern about how much pain relief medication you are taking to control them, it may be time to consider something new, such as Osteopathy.

Osteopaths use a hands-on therapeutic approach, commonly used to alleviate the pain and stress associated with numerous types of headache and migraine.
A headache originating from a neck complaint or from increased tension are the most common type of headache.

The osteopath may assist with cervicogenic (neck), tension headaches and migraine. Treatment aims to improve the quality of movement in the neck, reduce muscular tension, decrease pain, optimise blood flow and reduce irritation of nerves.



Our osteopaths have experience treating people suffering with headache and regularly provide advice on posture, exercises, dietary factors and stress management support that may be of assistance. By reducing the frequency and severity of pain, less pain relief should be required over time.

You may wonder why you should see an Osteopath rather than another health care provider.

Osteopathy malvern east chadstone
Osteopathy treatment of headache or migraine in malvern east chadstone massage dry needling


Osteopaths use non invasive, drug free treatment.  The aim is to improve physical health and wellbeing. We go beyond the symptoms to get to the cause of what’s happening for you. A one size fits all method to treating complaints does not work.  We pay attention to the complex dynamic between the body’s structure and the way its works. The aim is to restore the body’s self repairing process and use techniques to influence different body systems.  This may include joints, muscles, circulation, connective tissue and internal organs.  We have a big picture approach.


A qualified health practitioner can assess and identify when testing should be considered for more serious causes of headache.  This can be important for a diagnosis.  Osteopaths are university trained and registered primary health care providers.  Our team are able to differentiate between common causes and more serious medical concerns.

We may work with you or refer to other health care practitioners such as your doctor, optometrist or acupuncturist.  This is to provide optimal care.

When taking a patient’s medical history I often ask if they experience headaches or migraines. This is usually the point where I get asked if osteopaths can help with headaches. It’s always difficult to give people definitive answers as new evidence comes out every day. Treating headaches successfully doesn’t necessarily count as evidence, so I decided to have a look at some newer research so I can better answer this common question.


The lifetime prevalence of headaches are 93% in men and 99% in women, meaning nearly everyone experiences a headache at some point and sadly a lot of people suffer in silence and never seek any treatment.The most common form of headache is tension-type headache (TTH) which has a lifetime prevalence as high as 86%1 in women. Osteopaths are trained to diagnose what type of headache patients present with and check for red flags such as fever or weight loss that can indicate serious disease warranting referral. Generally people either have TTH/tension type headaches, migraines or a different type of headache altogether which often requires referral to a GP. Osteopaths also commonly treat migraines as well but we’ll leave them for another time.


Once the diagnosis of TTHs is made osteopaths are then able to treat the causes of TTH which are the soft tissues of the head and neck as well as the central nervous system.Osteopaths may also offer advice about addressing exacerbating factors such as sleep disorders, stress and unhealthy eating habits. Many osteopaths, myself included, pride themselves on their ability to detect dysfunction in different areas of the body that can contribute to issues in the central nervous system or put increased load on the soft tissues of the head and neck which may be the difference between intermittent headaches as opposed to more persistent ones.


Manual therapy, which includes osteopathy, is the most common non-medical treatment of recurrent headaches and studies now show that we can help headache intensity and/or frequency, reduce medication consumption and improve quality of life.3 A 2015 study showed that TTH responds to manual therapy better than pharmacological drug care in the short term and has similar effectiveness long term.4 A systematic review of randomized controlled trials from 2000 to 2013 showed that patients receiving manual therapy showed better progress than those receiving convention (pharmaceutical) treatment or placebo.There is also much less risk of developing headaches that result from medication over use, which are notoriously difficult to treat.


So can osteopaths treat headaches? Absolutely! It is frustrating to hear that people suffer from headaches and never seek any care, especially when it impacts on their quality of life, as I’ve always known headaches respond well to treatment. There is now good evidence that the most common form of headaches respond well to osteopathy treatment, so if you or somebody else you know suffer from headaches your local osteopath can help.


It’s reported that more than 37 million Americans suffer from headaches on a regular basis. Whether the root of the problem is hereditary, environmental or due to lifestyle factors, your clients with headache pain are looking for one thing—relief. And massage therapists are in a great position to help. Research suggests that even a short massage session of 30 minutes can improve headache pain.1 Following, find the information you need to best work with clients with headache pain, from the different types of headaches you might encounter, to massage techniques that are most helpful, to self-care regimens focused on minimizing both headache pain and frequency for both you and your clients.

Common Headache Types

Tension-type Headaches. Tension-type headaches are very common, are typically mild and can be treated using over-the-counter medications. Average duration is somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour, and pain typically occurs on both sides of the head. The three main types of tension-type headaches are infrequent episodic, which occur one or fewer times each month; frequent episodic, which occur more than once but less than 15 times each month; and chronic, which occur more than 15 times per month. Tension-type headaches can be triggered by a variety of factors, including muscle tension, bone misalignment, eye strain and other musculoskeletal imbalances.

Vascular Headaches. Vascular headaches are usually characterized by a “pounding” feeling. Pain with vascular headaches is usually more severe than with the tension-type and longer lasting—anywhere from three to four hours to three days. While the exact cause of these headaches is unknown, changes such as swelling or constricting of the nerves or blood vessels can sometimes be an onset. Four common subcategories of vascular headaches include:

  • Classic migraine. Also known as the “migraine with aura,” this type of vascular headache accounts for approximately a quarter of all migraines and involves pain that is preceded by blurred vision, a perception of flashing lights or auras. Auditory hallucinations might also occur, along with feelings of numbness, speech difficulty or muscle weakness. Auras typically occur within an hour of head pain starting and last less than 60 minutes. Sometimes, too, migraine aura occurs with little or no headache. While the exact cause is currently unknown, a migraine with aura can be triggered by many of the same factors as migraines in general: stress, bright lights, some foods and medications, and too much or too little sleep.
  • Aura-less common migraine. Migraines without aura can present as throbbing pain on one side of the head, and light sensitivity, nausea and/or vomiting may accompany head pain. This type of migraine could also cause the eyes and nose to run on the side of the head with pain. Unlike migraines with auras, pre-symptoms are nonexistent. Pain could last anywhere from several hours to several days.
  • Cluster headache. Cluster headaches affect more men than women and are both less common and not as well understood as migraines. Cluster headaches are more likely to occur during nighttime, and usually start with little or no warning. A cluster period can last anywhere from six to 12 weeks, and these headaches sometimes occur seasonally, like every spring or fall. Symptoms include excruciating pain that generally starts in or around one eye but may radiate to the head, neck and shoulders. The eyelid on the affected side might also droop, and redness can occur in the eye. Facial swelling or unilateral sweating might also occur. During a cluster period, headaches usually occur every day, sometimes several times a day, with a single attack lasting from 15 minutes to three hours. Notably, headaches usually occur at the same time each day, and pain usually ends as suddenly as it began.
  • Sinus headache. Sinuses are air-filled spaces in your forehead, cheekbones and nose area. If inflamed—either by an allergic reaction or an infection—sinus swelling could prevent mucus from draining properly. These headaches are believed to be caused by too much fluid in the sinus area of the skull that results in pressure build-up, which leads to headache pain. Symptoms include pain in the cheekbones, forehead or nose. At the same time, you might also have sinus symptoms, such as a runny nose, ringing in the ears, fever or face swelling.

Traction-inflammatory Headaches. While rare, this kind of headache could be a sign of either a bacterial or viral issue. Symptoms could include slurred speech, numbness in the body and difficulties in motor control. Possible causes for this type of headache include meningitis, stroke or a tumor.

Related: Helping Clients Manage Migraine

Common Massage Techniques that Help Headache Pain

Dr. Ben Benjamin, Ph.D., founder of the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, stresses that for massage to be effective, massage therapists need to understand the cause of the client’s headache. “If [the client] has an injury that’s causing the headache, such as a neck injury, it is important to address both the migraine and the neck injury with massage to relieve headache pain,” he explains.

Alison Babil, a massage therapist from Maryland, agrees, adding that the techniques she uses often vary depending on the client, so understanding your clients—especially when they’re in pain—is imperative.

These massage techniques show real promise when working with clients suffering from headache pain:

Deep Tissue Massage. Because you are using firm pressure accompanied with slow strokes to massage deeper muscle layers, deep-tissue massage can relax strained muscles that may be the root cause of headache pain. Here, think deep, gliding motions using the knuckles or thumbs. According to Babil, this kind of massage works the facial muscles in a focused way and the compression that comes with the firm pressure helps with pain that is primarily affecting specific areas of the head. Research also suggests that applying deep-tissue massage to the head alleviates head pain. In a recent study on the efficacy of manual therapy in patients with tension-type headaches2, applying a deep and progressive gliding movement to the head using the fingertips released suboccipital muscle spasms, which can contribute to headache pain.

Trigger Point Massage. Like deep-tissue massage, trigger point relaxes strained muscles by using direct pressure. wherever the primary block is,” Dr. Benjamin says. “Sometimes, the migraine could occur in the upper region of the head, such as around the eyes or at the temple, so I find applying pressure for a very brief second throughout the treatment to the head and neck region to be very beneficial.”

According to Susan Juczak, a massage therapist in North Carolina, neuromuscular massage, which pinpoints and releases stiff muscles or trigger points, can also help massage therapists get right to the source of headache pain, though she’s quick to caution that using the right amount of pressure is important. “It’s also important to make sure to work on one side of the head at a time so that each muscle is treated,” she adds.

Assessments for Clients with Headaches

Tension Test. Dr. Benjamin uses a 30-question assessment designed to help him suss out the source of the headache, including questions about tight places in the face. Babil uses similar assessment tools, asking clients when the headache started, what, if anything, made the pain worse and if there is a history of headaches in the family.

Gait Analysis. Gait analysis, or the study of movement in the human body, is another assessment that can be used to see which body postures or movements trigger headache pain. “A lot of times people will develop tension patterns that cause headaches and they’re not even aware of those patterns,” Juczak explains, “so I usually say, ‘Awareness is the key to change’ so that posture and alignment are reconsidered.” Juczak also says that assessing your client’s posture through postural analysis is important so massage therapists can use techniques catered to improving poor ergonomics, if appropriate.

Self-care for Massage Therapists and Clients with Headaches

Get Massage. Especially for massage therapists who suffer from headaches, Juczak insists that getting massage every four to six weeks is important to relieve muscle tension in the body.

Do Something You Enjoy. Since stress can induce headaches, taking some time out of your day to engage in a relaxing activity helps to reduce some of that stress. Babil agrees, saying that it’s important for clients to ask themselves, “How do I calm down and maintain my center?” when finding ways to reduce stress that leads to headaches.

Keep Your Body in Mind. Babil says that one self-care tip to keep in mind is remembering your own body when working with clients. This can be done through using your fingertips more often and practicing proper posture. You can also keep your body in mind through proper diet and exercise, including fluid intake. “Dehydration is a big cause of headaches,” Juczak says. It’s vital to drink sufficient water daily to ensure proper brain function and energy levels approximately 3.7 liters for men and 2.7 liters for women, according to Mayo Clinic.

Self Massage. Providing clients who get regular headaches some exercises they can do at home is very helpful, too. Dr. Benjamin, for example, provides his headache clients with a brief list of massage exercises for their eyes, nose, mouth and jaw. By doing so, he says that you can prevent headaches before they even start. Juczak also recommends acupressure for self-care, suggesting there are specific pressure points in the hands that can be used to relieve headache pain.



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