Headache disorders are among the most common disorders of the nervous system [1]. As of 2016, it is estimated that half of the adult population have suffered from at least one headache per year, with many people experiencing headaches more frequently. Headaches can be associated with personal and societal burdens of pain, disability, damaged quality of life, and financial cost.

The most common types of headaches are migraines and tension headaches. Other types of headaches include cluster and exertional headaches.

Types of Headaches


Migraines are usually an intense pounding headache that can last for hours or even days. The associated pounding or pulsing pain usually begins in the forehead, the side of the head or around the eyes and gradually the headache gets worse. Movement, activity, bright lights or loud noises can cause increased pain and discomfort. It is not uncommon for migraines to cause nausea and vomiting. The cause of migraines is not exactly known.

Common migraine risk factors [2]:

  • Family history: You are much more likely to have migraines if one or both of your parents had migraines.
  • Sex: Women are more likely than men to have migraines.
  • Age: Most people have their first migraine during adolescence, but migraines can start at any age, usually before age 40.

Common migraine triggers [2]:

  • Certain foods
  • Hormone changes
  • Stress
  • Loud sounds, bright lights
  • Illness

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are also often known as stress headaches. They present as a constant, dull, achy feeling on both sides of the head, or like a band around the head. Tension headaches usually begin slowly and gradually and often start in the middle of the day. Tension headaches may be mild or severe and can often cause tightness in the jaw and neck muscles.

Causes include:

  • Stress
  • Certain foods and beverages
  • Sleep problems
  • Blocked sinuses
  • Muscle tension, which can be caused by jaw clenching and poor posture
  • Depression/Anxiety
  • Hormonal changes in women

Cluster headaches

A cluster headache is a rare type of headache. Cluster headaches typically occur once or more daily at the same times each day for up to 12 weeks, until the “cluster period” is over. Pain is usually located behind or around one eye and is very severe. The eye and nose on the same side as the pain may become red, swollen and runny. Cluster headaches also cause restlessness and are more common in men. They can last a few minutes or several hours, but it usually lasts for 45 to 90 minutes. Cluster periods usually last four to 8 weeks and may occur seasonally, such as in spring or autumn. Then, no cluster headaches will occur for weeks, months or even years.


  • Taking certain medications (such as nitroglycerin)
  • Heavy smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • An interruption in your normal sleep pattern
  • Abnormal hormone levels
  • Problems with the hypothalamus, which controls your body’s ‘biological clock’

Exertional headaches

Exertional headaches are usually very short-lived but can sometimes last up to two days. They present as a throbbing pain felt throughout the head and are more common in those with a family history of migraine.


  • Running
  • Jumping
  • Weight lifting
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Bouts of coughing or sneezing

What can I do to help my headaches?

Besides taking medicine, following a regular daily routine can also help. For instance, eat meals at regular hours. Other things you can do to ease the pain of a headache include the following:

  • Put a heat pack or an ice pack on your head or neck.
  • Lie down in a dark, quiet room
  • Take a hot shower. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day.
  • Get enough rest or sleep.
  • Do not skip breakfast. Fasting is a common cause of headache.
  • Regular exercise of all types
  • Consult your Osteopath
  • Yoga, meditation and relaxation therapy can also relieve headaches.

How Physical Therapy Can Help

Our job is to limit the load and stress applied on the affected area, reducing tension and aiding the management of pain and recovery process. We use a variety of techniques to achieve this, including soft tissue massage, muscle engaging techniques, articulation and manipulation.

If you or somebody you know experiences headaches, please feel free to contact our friendly team on 5255 5040 (OG) or 4202 0446 (L) to discuss how we can assist.


  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/headache-disorders
  2. https://www.clinicalkey.com.au/#!/content/patient_handout/5-s2.0-pe_AAFP_migraines_en