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Can Osteopathy Help Reduce Painful Headaches and Migraines?

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

Headaches are one of the most common reasons people seek out a doctor. They can be caused by stress, poor sleep, lack of exercise, or tension in the neck, shoulders, and back. If you are suffering from headaches or migraines, then it is important that you get to a medical professional and see if osteopathy is for you.

Osteopathy can help with many types of headaches, including tension-type headaches and migraines, which are often associated with the neck and head area.

Osteopathy has been shown to be effective at relieving pain associated with headaches and migraines but also has a preventative effect on future occurrences by improving posture, balance, and muscle tone.

What is Osteopathy?

Osteopathy is a branch of medicine that aims to treat the whole person, not just their symptoms. The word “osteopathy” comes from the Greek word “osteon,” meaning bone, and “pathos,” meaning suffering.

Osteopathy is a healthcare discipline that uses manual manipulation, exercise, and other rehabilitative techniques to treat neuromusculoskeletal disorders and conditions.

Osteopaths are trained to diagnose and treat not only musculoskeletal problems but also internal diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

It is a holistic approach to healthcare that focuses on the body’s ability to heal itself. It differs from conventional medicine in its focus on treating the whole person rather than just the disease or injury from which someone may be suffering.

An osteopathic consultation aims to find the cause of your symptoms- whether physical or emotional — and then work out how best to treat them with a combination of therapies, including osteopathic techniques such as joint manipulation (simply called “manipulation”) and massage.

Osteopathic Manipulation Treatment for Headaches and Migraines

Osteopathic manipulation treatment (OMT) is a specific type of manual treatment that many osteopathic physicians use to treat headaches and migraines.

OMT is based on the principle that the body has an innate ability to maintain itself in homeostasis (a state of balance and equilibrium). Still, sometimes this ability is impaired because of structural or functional changes. Practitioners of osteopathic manipulation believe these changes can result from trauma, disease, or developmental problems.

  1. The first step in OMT for headaches and migraines is to assess the patient’s posture and muscle tone. The practitioner will check how well the joints are moving and whether there are any areas of chronic muscle tension or referred pain (pain felt in parts of the body away from where it originates).
  2. If necessary, they may use gentle stretching and resistance exercises to improve flexibility and range of motion in certain joints.
  3. Once this evaluation is complete, the physician may begin applying gentle pressure to certain points on your head, neck, or back with their hands.
  4. The purpose of this procedure is to restore normal spinal alignment by restoring mobility within your joints.

In a study, it was concluded that osteopathic manipulative treatment could be potentially used for treating various musculoskeletal disorders, including lower back pain, chronic neck pain, and chronic non-cancer pain. They also summarized evidence from a systematic review showing that OMT could be used to effectively treat headaches.

Benefits of Osteopathy for Treating Headaches and Migraines

Osteopaths are trained to treat the whole body, and this approach can be very effective when it comes to relieving headaches and migraines. The benefits of osteopathy for treating migraines include:

Increase Blood Flow

When there is less pressure on the veins in the neck, they become easier to expand and, therefore, more efficient at carrying blood away from the head. This means that less blood remains in the head, which helps to reduce pressure on the brain.

Reduce Muscle Tension

When muscles are tense, they can cause pain, which can make headaches worse. Osteopaths aim to relax muscles by applying gentle pressure or stretching them out gently so that they release their tension naturally. This can help ease headaches and prevent them from returning again in the future.

Improve Posture

Improving posture is an important part of treating migraines because poor posture can put additional stress on your joints which can lead to muscle tension, leading to more headaches. Osteopaths use manual therapy techniques like mobilizations (movements) and manipulations (pressure) to improve posture, strengthen weak muscles, and put joints back into position to work correctly again.

Correct Oxygen Blockages Caused by Hypertension

High blood pressure or high blood sugar levels can affect the circulation and oxygenation of tissues around your brain. This can lead to migraine attacks (see above). By correcting these circulatory problems using osteopathic techniques, we can help reduce the frequency and severity of your headaches.

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