5 Steps for Instant Relief from Migraines & Headaches


Headaches and migraines can affect all of the population. Based on overseas research, it is estimated by the Headaches Australia Organisation that there are up to seven million tension-type headache sufferers (36% for men and 42% for women) and up to three million migraine sufferers in Australia. Headaches and migraines can affect your home life, social life and work life.

With the latest research indicating that a number of headaches are being caused by the very medications taken to alleviate them, I’ll offer you some very effective alternatives to headache and migraine relief.

In this article I’ll discuss:

  • Tension headaches and symptoms
  • Migraine headaches and symptoms
  • Is your headache or migraine caused by your neck?
  • Preventing & treating headaches and migraine headaches
  • How physiotherapy can relieve headaches and migraine headaches


Tension Headaches

Headaches alone affect almost two thirds of the population. Headaches appear as pain in the head, in or around the eyes or ears and behind the back of the head. There are many different types of headaches, and many different causes. There is significant clinical evidence and research to confirm that many headaches arise from tight muscles and stiff joints of the upper neck. These headaches are known as tension headaches or cervicogenic headaches.

Current RCTs suggest that massage therapy, physiotherapy, relaxation and chiropractic spinal manipulative therapy might be equally efficient as propranolol and topiramate in the prophylactic management of migraine.

A tension headache is thought to be due to muscle tightness in the scalp, forehead and the back of the neck as well as stiff joints of the upper neck, resulting in referred pain into the head.

This can be triggered by:

  • physical or emotional stress
  • muscle tension of the upper neck
  • malalignments of the neck joints
  • fatigue and cold
  • poor sitting posture with a poked chin neck position
  • previous spinal injury such as a whiplash injury in a motor vehicle accident


Tension Headache Symptoms

Tension headache symptoms may include:

  • Dull and persistent pain that may vary in intensity (mild to moderate) and is usually felt on both sides of the head or neck (some however experience jabs of sudden pain in the head)
  • A constant, tight, heavy or pressing sensation on or around the head
  • Tautness and tenderness of the scalp, neck and shoulder muscles
  • Neck movements (active or passive) restricted by muscular stiffness and discomfort
  • Ache in the upper back
  • Recurrent and episodic pain (often in association with stress)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disturbed sleep patterns

Migraine Headaches


Migraine can be triggered by many factors including alcohol, caffeine, preservatives in food, hormonal changes, stress, sleep disturbances, perfumes and smoking. Tight muscles and stiff joints of the upper neck can also trigger migraine headaches.

Migraine headaches are described as a recurrent throbbing headache that typically affects one side of the head and is often accompanied by nausea and disturbed vision. Migraine sufferrers can also be extremely sensitive to light and sound.


Symptoms of Migraine Headaches

Along with a headache, migraine sufferers may also experience:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • sensitivity to bright lights
  • sensitivity to loud music and blurred vision.
  • an aura or visual disturbances such flashes, splotches, zigzags, or shimmering coloured lights surrounding a blind spot.

Is Your Headache or Migraine Caused by Your Neck?

Neck Stretch

Your headache or migraine could be caused by tight neck muscles or neck stiffness. This may be caused by a poor standing and sitting posture as well as sleeping positions.

Here’s a quick quiz to work out if your headache is coming from your neck?

  1. Has your doctor cleared you of any other factors that may be contributing to your headache?
  2. Does your neck pain radiate from the back to the front of your head?
  3. Do you have pain between your shoulder blades?
  4. Is your headache worsened by neck movement?
  5. Is your headache worsened by keeping your neck in the one position for long periods (driving, watching TV or computer use)?
  6. Is your headache worsened with poor sitting posture with your chin poked forward?
  7. Can your headache be eased by pressure at the base of your skull?
  8. Is this type of headache not always relieved by medication?
  9. Do you have a long history of neck pain and headache?

If you answered yes to some of these questions, then you may need to see a physiotherapist to give you a more accurate diagnosis.

Simple Steps to Stop the Pain


Shoulder Injury

[bctt tweet=”Physiotherapy can be a very effective treatment for headache and migraine sufferers”]

Physiotherapy: Physiotherapy can be a very effective treatment for headache and migraine sufferers by proving quick relief. You can also get an accurate diagnosis about the cause of your headache or migraine with a treatment plan to prevent future migraines and headaches. You’ll find more information at the end of the article on how physiotherapy can help your migraine or headache.

Ice Packs: Most people think they need a hot pack for a headache or migraine, but opt for a cold pack rather than a hot pack to stop migraine pain. A cold pack or ice wrapped in a towel/pillow slip will help reduce the inflammation that is causing your headache. Alternating between hot and cold may also be helpful.

Supplements: In a recent study, patients who took 400 mg of riboflavin (vitamin B2) daily experienced significantly fewer migraines after 3 months.

Relaxation Techniques: Massage can help ease any neck and shoulder spasms that may be directly or indirectly causing your headache. A short and gentle Hatha yoga session can also help you mobilise joints and reduce stiffness.

Herbs: Though herbs are more preventative than curative, there are new recommendations that confirm the herb butterbur can help migraine sufferers, possibly because it supports a healthy blood flow to the brain.

An extract of butterbur root (petasin) is thought to possess anti-inflammatory and vasoactive properties, which has led researchers to investigate its efficacy for migraine prophylaxis.

How physiotherapy and massage will help your headache or migraine

set-stand desk

In most cases, physiotherapy alone offers an effective solution for tension headaches.

  1. Correct diagnosis – On your first visit, we can establish a correct diagnosis to direct the most effective care to your headache pain. Establishing the correct diagnosis early is imperative as several injuries have similar symptoms yet have different treatment protocols. Early treatment will be focused on reducing pain and regaining normal neck range of motion.
  2. Improving neck joint mobility – Using hands on therapy techniques to improve upper neck joint mobility and muscle flexibility will .
  3. Improving your posture – Your headaches and migraines can be improved by improving your posture. Poor posture can lead to strain on your back and neck muscles possibly leading to headaches and migraine.
  4. Pillow assessment – A cervical pillow assessment can help ensure that you have the proper pillow to obtain an optimal neck position during sleeping.
  5. Workstation /work desk set upSitting incorrectly at our desks, having the computer screen at an incorrect height and sitting for long periods is detrimental to our overall health and could be one of the leading causes of headaches and migraines
  6. Strengthening program – The physiotherapist will then prescribe an exercise program to improve the strength and coordination of your deep neck stabilisers and upper back muscles, which are important for preventing re-injury.


Having a headache or migraine can stop you in your tracks and seriously affect your work life, social life and family life. If you take note of some of these quick and easy, natural solutions you can be back to your normal self in no time.


Main Photo Credit: r.nial bradshaw


About Craig Honeybrook

Craig is the practice principal of Sport & Spinal Physiotherapy. He attained a Masters in Sports Physiotherapy degree in 2000 at Sydney University studying foot injuries in runners and anterior knee pain in cyclists. He has been working as a physiotherapist for over 20 years and moved to Canberra over 12 years ago. He has been consultant physiotherapist for Balmain Rugby League, Eastern Suburbs Rugby, Australian Track & Field and Brumbies Rugby. His special interests include lower limb biomechanics, spinal instabilities and malalignments, bike fitting, running assessments, shoulder injuries and knee injuries. Craig was a former international level middle distance runner but now enjoys endurance mountain biking achieving a 2nd placing in the 2010 World Solo 24 hour Mountain Bike Championships. He also enjoys skiing, swimming, kayaking, gym work and spending time with his family.


  1. Susan George on August 5, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for sharing, does standing is sun for long tome cause headache ?

    • Craig Honeybrook on August 7, 2017 at 1:21 am

      Hi Susan, you would certainly have to watch out for dehydration which is a major cause of headaches.

  2. Ellen on January 8, 2016 at 7:17 am

    Wow! What a knowledgeable and a very insightful article. I really enjoyed reading this article and so happy that I learned important lessons from it. One of the lessons I learned was to improve my posture to avoid headaches.

    This article is really helpful. Thanks for sharing.