Headaches - How Can Physiotherapy Help?


Headaches can vary in nature, with a variety of causes and severity. They range from a small nuisance in the background to a debilitating pain which can affect your daily activities. We will discuss several types of headaches, common causes and the treatment options available; including how SCENAR therapy can help with these various headache types.

“Neck headache”

Also known as a cervicogenic headache, this is a secondary headache as it is caused by a neck problem. Identifying the problem in the neck and treating it appropriately should therefore abolish the headache symptom.  There are a number of structures in the neck which can lead to a neck headache, such as the upper neck joints, the discs, spinal cord or neck muscles. A problem with any one of these anatomical sites may be mistakenly interpreted as a headache when pain signals travel to your brainstem.

Treating a neck headache involves first identifying the source of the problem. Stiff neck joints will benefit from being “loosened” with mobilisation. Hypermobile joints should respond well to strengthening exercises to stabilise and improve control. Other problems, such as tightness of the neck muscles can be addressed via stretching or massage. Your physiotherapist will be able to determine what treatment is most effective after performing a thorough examination.

“Tension headache”

This is the most common form of headache, occurring sporadically in up to 80% of the population, with some suffering chronically. These types of headaches tend to be bilateral (occurring on both sides of the head) and feel like there is a tightening sensation around the head. It is generally mild to moderate. Occasionally, though not often, it can be accompanied by one of: nausea, light or sound sensitivity.

Quality physiotherapy can have a quick and positive effect in relieving tension headaches through relaxation of muscles under tension. Tight muscles can lead to dysfunction of other surrounding structures and these may also need to be treated accordingly.


Migraines are a neurological disorder, characterised by incidences of pain and discomfort. The pain felt with migraines is typically moderate to severe and is felt on one side of the head, but can change sides between episodes. The pain is usually felt as a throbbing sensation and can cause individuals to require days off school or work. Migraines are commonly associated with at least one or more of: nausea, light or sound sensitivity. Migraines can also be accompanied by an “aura” which involves visual or sensory disturbances, such as seeing spots or lights, as well as pins and needles or numbness. The causes of migraines are less thoroughly understood, and are diagnosed based on the history and presenting symptoms.

SCENAR Therapy

SCENAR therapy is a useful tool in managing some of the abovementioned headache types – most commonly neck and tension headaches. The SCENAR is able to identify problem areas which are compromised due to injury or disease, and help restore normal function by improving blood flow and stimulating the nerves to reduce pain. As the SCENAR is able to treat a variety of structures within the neck’s vicinity, it can be especially useful if it is difficult to identify the exact cause, or if there are several structures in play. Your physiotherapist can advise if this treatment is appropriate for you.