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Headache and Migraines

Headaches are a very common symptom, that have been under estimated, under recognised and under treated. Headache disorders affect people all over the world and can cause difficulty with activities of day to day living. Therapy can produce dramatic results where years of medication and dietary advice have failed. Although similar in nature there is a great difference between types of headaches and migraines. Please see below a list of common conditions we can treat at Mike Varney Physiotherapy in our Headache and Migraine Clinic:

Tension Headaches

The most common type of headache, tension headaches are diffuse, unspecific headaches that radiate throughout the whole of the head. They tend to have a band-like quality and patients often use the word “pressure” to describe them. Often they are worse on one side of head and are mild to moderate intensity. They are often aggravated by emotional stress, anxiety and depression.

Cluster Headaches

Slightly rarer are cluster headaches. These are recurrent, severe in intensity and sufferers often describe them as sharp or “knife-like”. They are sometimes also accompanied by eye watering, nasal congestion and swelling around the eye. They are also much more common in males than females by a ratio of 6:1.

Cervicogenic Headaches

Cervicogenic headaches tend to start with neck pain that begins to radiate over from the back of the head over into the forehead. They are normally only on one side of the head and does not tend to change sides. There is usually associated neck pain that may worsen before the headache starts, although this is not uncommon with other types of headache and migraine.


Migraines are similar to headaches in that they cause severe pain in the head. But differ in that they also have associated symptoms including nausea and/or vomiting, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise and visual disturbances known as aura. Aura can present in many ways including blind spots, loss of vision in one eye, flashing lights and dark spots. In addition, sufferers can also experience numbness, weakness, impairment of speech and vertigo (severe dizziness). All of these symptoms are completely reversible and reside when the migraine attack ceases which can be anywhere between a few minutes and up to a few days.

Nelson Headache Approach

Here at the clinic, all of our therapists are trained in the Nelson Headache Approach; an approach developed by specialist headache and migraine physiotherapist Rebecca Nelson based in Northern Ireland. This involves gentle manual techniques called Passive Accessory Intervertebral Movements where the therapist applies a repetitive pressure to the joints at the top of the neck in order to reduce stiffness and irritation in this area which causes the headaches.

The Nelson Headache Approach involves a four stage protocol with strict parameters depending on the type and distribution of the headache or migraine. Rebecca Nelson states that results are often seen after a couple of treatments and complete clearance of headaches and migraines, on average, takes between four to six treatments.

Treatment sessions are 30 minutes long and may also include other treatments such as acupuncture and massage. We recommend an hour session for the first treatment.

As well as hands-on treatment, your therapist will also talk to you about lifestyle changes you can make in order to reduce your headache or migraine. This includes pillow types and sleeping position, type and frequency of medications and exercise prescription.

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