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Headaches and Migraines

Migraine is a chronic disorder with moderate even severe headaches. A typical migraine is usually on one side and may last from several hours even up to two to three days. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting and increased sensitivity to light. Some people perceive an aura, a transient visual, sensory, language, or motor disturbance signaling that the migraine will soon occur.

Please remember that migraines and headaches may respond to Osteopathy and Cranial osteopathy, and treatment can hopefully not only relieve an acute episode but might also be helpful to prevent further recurrence. Cranial Osteopathy uses techniques to lightly hold the head, and the Osteopath looks for any restrictions in the movement of the bones of the head (the interdigitations of the sutures of the cranial bones allow for very small minute movements, and with experience a cranial osteopath can feel slight alterations and movements).

However, headaches can also come from the neck and upper back ('tension' headaches from tight neck muscles and shoulders) and thorough Osteopathic treatment will also address the upper back, and neck muscles, if required. In fact in Osteopathy headaches are treated by generally working through the entire vertebral column and associated paraspinal muscles. Everything we do in an osteopathic treatment that effects the spine and vertebral column will probably have some effect on the central nervous system, the dura and meninges and the cerebro-spinal fluid, no matter how imperceptibly small. Even incredibly small minute changes in the nervous system can have far reaching results.

The cerebro-spinal fluid circulates all the way from the head to the lower back, within the dura (membrane) covering the spinal cord, within the vertebral canal. Restrictions (subluxations or lesions) of the vertebral joints may effect the cerebro-spinal fluid circulation, increased tension within the intracranial membrane system and could also in theory result in an increased tendency to headaches. Partly this could also be explained by an increased build up of metabolites and waste-products, and partly by tension and tightness within the dura of the spinal cord, and increased tension of the intracranial membranes. Admittedly this is speculative, as an explanation (where there can be no conclusive proof or dis-proof, as far as evidence base is concerned) but this is a common subjective finding from osteopaths who treat headaches, and this explanation is as good as any, and a perfectly plausible one.

Other Headaches & Head Injury

Remember that in addition to migraine there are many reasons for headaches: high blood pressure can be one (good to have a GP and see them sometimes).

Any head injury, no matter how minor needs to be taken seriously. Go to hospital to have this checked out. Any concussion, disorientation, drowsiness, loss of consciousness MUST be checked out at a hospital emergency department.

A stroke or bleed in the brain (especially in older people) may have other symptoms, which may (but not always) include a severe headache, changes in vision, double vision, lethargy, confusion, seizures, slurred speech or loss of speech. If you see this in someone or a family member this needs urgent and immediate hospital admission — phone immediately for an ambulance.

Other dangerous headaches, especially in children and young people may be caused by meningitis. The most common symptoms include headache and stiff neck, also fever, confusion, altered consciousness, vomiting, inability to tolerate light or loud noise. Meningitis can be life-threatening and is a medical emergency. If you suspect this urgent admission to hospital is required.

Migraine Medication & Herbs

However, fortunately the majority of headaches are quite benign, often described as tension headaches (tight neck and scalp muscles) or migraine. Various pharmaceutical medications are prescribed for headaches and migraines. In addition to, or instead of, the non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. aspirin) sometimes codeine is helpful, and in severe cases an anti-emitic (e.g. Metoclopramide) may be helpful to prevent nausea and vomiting. Ergotamine may be used to help prevent migraines (although there can be rebound effect and long term-use is not recommended).

There are other preventative medications such as pizotifen (sandomigran) which are not effective in treating an attack, but claim to help about 50% of people. They can cause sleepiness and may increase the appetite.

Amitryptyline is an antidepressant sometimes prescribed for migraine sufferers (and also sometimes for muscle and joint pain). Migraines patients are often required to take maximum doses for 6 months or more to avoid relapses.

Fortunately there are some good complementary remedies.

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) can be taken as a daily capsule, or eaten raw with salads. Long term use can help prevent migraines.

Migradol is a nutrient formulation containing magnesium and vitamin B2. Take this twice a day at meal times for one or two months.

An Epsom salts bath can also be helpful for migraines, due to the muscle relaxant effect of magnesium.


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mike inman   osteopath


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