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What are headaches?

Headaches are described as a pain or discomfort in the head or face. They can vary in regard to location and intensity of the pain, and how often the headaches take place.

Whilst the brain tissue itself doesn’t have pain-sensitive nerve fibres, other parts of the head can be responsible for a headache including:

  • A network of nerves that covers the scalp

  • Nerves in the face, mouth, and throat

  • Muscles of the head, neck, and shoulders

  • Blood vessels found along the surface and at the base of the brain

  • Other body parts being out of alignment that cause restrictions which go all the way to the head.


What causes a headache?

Headaches can be primary or secondary.

  • A primary headache means the headache itself is the main problem, and other factors, such as muscle tension or exposure to certain foods can aggravate it. Other contributing factors include medicines, dehydration, or hormonal changes.

  • A secondary headache is secondary to something else, such as a neck or back injury, eye problems, jaw tension, bad posture, teeth or sinus infection.

What types of Headaches are there?


Yes, migraines are a type of headache. In this type there are symptoms other than pain which take place such as: 

Nausea and vomiting, lightheadedness, sensitivity to light (photophobia), and other visual symptoms typically occur with migraines. Migraines also have distinct phases which include:

  • Premonition or prodromal phase. A change in mood or behaviour can take place hours or days before the headache.

  • Aura phase. Usually a mix of visual, sensory, or motor symptoms can present before of during the headache. Examples include vision changes, hallucinations, numbness, changes in speech, and muscle weakness.

  • Headache phase. The actual headache with throbbing pain on one or both sides of the head. Sensitivity to light and motion are common, as are depression, fatigue, and anxiety.

  • Resolution phase. Pain lessens during this phase, but may be replaced with fatigue, irritability, and trouble concentrating. Some people feel refreshed after an attack, others feel wiped out. 


Tension Type Headaches:

These are by far the most common type of headache. Stress and tight muscles are often factors in tension-type headaches. These are common symptoms of a tension-type headache:

  • Slow onset of the headache

  • Head usually hurts on both sides

  • Pain is dull or feels like a tight band or vice around the head

  • Pain can be around the back of the head or neck

  • Pain is mild to moderate, but not severe

  • There are no symptoms of nausea, vomiting, or light sensitivity.

Cluster Headache:

They usually occur in a series that can last for weeks or months.

Symtoms include:

  • Strong pain on one side of the head, usually behind one eye

  • The affected eye can become red and watery with a droopy lid and small pupil

  • Swollen eyelid

  • Runny nose or congestion

  • Swelling of the forehead

Image by Milad Fakurian

How can Osteopathy or Acupuncture Help?


  • Our Queenstown and Wanaka Osteopaths are trained to find the cause of a problem, not just address the symptoms. When it comes to headaches we take into consideration all the aspects of someone's life, not just the physical presentation. 

  • Osteopathic treatment works by; reducing areas of tension that restrict drainage of blood and toxins from the head, restoring the body's posture towards physiology to reduce functional overloading, and working on the structures of the head to ensure there are no restrictions causing tension within the cranium. 


  • Our Queenstown and Wanaka Acupuncturists use Traditional Chinese Medicine to address underlying causes of headaches. By connecting the various structures of the body through the meridians they are able to assess hormonal, digestive, vascular and muscular imbalances which can be triggers for headaches. 

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