Some of us are lucky enough to only have headaches when we’ve had a few too many the night before. But for so many people headaches and migraines can be life affecting, ongoing problems; severely affecting their quality of life. Whilst there are of course medical conditions which can cause headaches we find that about 90% of recurrent headache sufferers we see can be easily cured by Sports Therapists and Physiotherapists alike. But how would this be? If you want to know, read on…
Stress Causes Headaches Right?
Now obviously stress is a factor, to find out more about it’s impact check out our previous article all about stress. We all feel all of our conditions more when we have increased stress. Whether that is headaches, migraines or a bad back. But why would this be? You may recall that we talked about this in great detail in our What Is Pain? article. Firstly, in times of stress our bodies are more sensitive. We just feel things more. This is part of our “Fight or Flight” response. We need to be alert and ready to run away from the ‘Sabre Toothed Tiger’.
Secondly, we all have positions of comfort that we go to in times of stress. This may be learnt behaviour from our close relations. Ask your partner which mannerisms you share with your parents and / or children. Or it may be a compensation behaviour. If you’ve had previous injury or accident the brain looks to protect that previously vulnerable part of the body.
I’m Not Stressed; I Always Work With Gritted Teeth!
These “go to” defensive positions can take any form but lets just deal with the ones that can contribute to headaches here:
- Forward Head position – Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders! I’m sure you know plenty of people like this. On the rare occasions that I slip from bio-mechanical perfection (!) this is one of the areas yours truly has to work on. In this posture we just look a little more down trodden. It’s been around for aeons but in more recent years has become even more prevalent with the ever increasing usage of computers. If you have a child who likes Play Station…..take a look, chances are you are witnessing a classic example!
- Rounded Shoulders – This is simply where we cover up what is going on inside. On the inside we’re screaming, it’s just that we don’t feel like the world needs to know. How British! This rounded shoulder position gives rise to tightness on the top of your shoulders. (Your Upper Trapezius for those of a more technical slant). This is you if you categorise yourself, as so many people do, as “holding tension in my shoulders.” The reality is it’s not that straightforward, but I’ll let that go for now.
- Jaw Clenching – Finally the big problem! At it’s worst this will be those who grind their teeth in their sleep…..you guys will probably know who you are. You may even have been diagnosed with Temporo-Mandible Joint Dysfunction, this of course means nothing! You’ll have probably been told off by your dentist too! But for the rest of us this can be a factor too. Many of us, possibly even reading this right now, are holding our jaw tight. Maybe not gritting teeth tight but certainly tense.
So What Can Be Done?
Now before we go onto to how any Sports Therapist or Physiotherapist may be able to help you with these issues and why they lead to headaches we need to get comfortable with everything in the body being continuous with everything else. The simplest explanation is that we’d have bits falling off if this was not the case! If we’re being more helpful, and I feel I should be, we need to understand myofascia.
Myofascia is THE buzz word in Physiotherapy and Sports Therapy world right now. Simply Myo means muscle. Fascia is fascia – the connective tissue that spans our whole body. So Myofascia simply means muscles and fascia. Latin’s great isn’t it?! Does what it say on the tin. So for the sake of this article we simply need to know that muscle affects fascia and fascia affects muscle and that fascia connects lots of muscles together. Simples. You can now sign up for a Physiotherapy or Sports Therapy degree!
The Technical Bit
So next we need to use some pictures, as that’s just the easiest way to visualise and understand these things. So here are some pictures from our friends at Anatomy Trains. These are the guys pioneering the way in all things myofascial. So take a look at the Deep Front Line the Superficial Front Line and also the Superficial Back Line. Don’t be scared; I’ll talk you through them – but just be happy with the fact that this is how things are connected. Anything on each line can affect anything else. A bit more complex than you thought?
Everyone still on board? Let’s start with the easy one. If you look at the picture above, you will see some muscles running up the side of the head. These are called the Masseter – the muscle of mastication (careful with that one!) and the temporalis – the muscle in your temple. Again Latin keeping it simple. The function of these muscles is the clench the jaw shut. If they’re over used you’ll get headaches in the temple region and / or jaw ache. Simply put, stop clenching your jaw and all will be fine. Or come and see us and we’ll identify why you’re over using these muscles and help you sleep sounder without any grinding.
Add to that the fact that tension in the jaw can affect the one of the nerves which comes directly from the brain. This nerve, the trigeminal nerve, can affect many things including migraines. Release the tension on this nerve and hey presto the migraines stop.
So that was the easy one! Now back to the head forward position. This is a double whammy. Firstly the muscles called Sternocleidomastoid (let’s call it SCM for short from now) pulls forwards. This is the muscle outlined in black in the picture above. You can see how this and other similar muscles attach to the base of the skull. This quite reasonably would give headaches at the base of the skull. Moreover, due to the fascia connections (shown in white) which continue over the rest of head, tension in the these muscles and fascia can give headache type symptoms.
Similarly the rounded shoulder posture we spoke of previously means that the upper trapezius become short and tight. As you can see from the picture below this muscle attaches into the base of the skull and can contribute to head symptoms. Not only at the base of the skull but all the way to the top of the eyebrows. This due to the continuation of the fascia from the base of the skull over the top of the head to its terminus, above the eyebrows – this is why this is such a common area for headaches. This is shown very well in the Superficial Back Line, top right of the three pictures.
Conclusion – What Should I Be Doing Next?
A combination of round shoulders and head forwards leads to the Superficial Back Line working too hard – this can be anywhere along it. This means as the muscles anywhere down the length of your back tire out and tighten it pulls on the base of the skull and the fascia continuous to the eyebrows and we have headaches.
All that any Physiotherapist or Sports Therapist worth their salt needs to do is simply find which part of that bio-mechanical puzzle is the route cause on each individual. We like to think that we are the very Sports Therapists to help you out. Just as we helped Carol resolve her long standing migraine issues. Click here to view her video testimonial. If you are having problems with annoying headaches give us a call to see how we can help you – or mail us at info@BrightonSportsTherapy.co.uk.
In the meantime, don’t get stressed, or at least don’t grit your teeth when you are. Don’t reach too far for the mouse and walk around like you’re nice and chippa and not like you’ve got the weight of the world on shoulders. If it’s all too late, you know where we are!