Osteopathy for Headaches

By Paola Pizzuto, registered Osteopath

Headache is one of the most common complaints I encounter in clinic.

If you suffer from headaches, no one knows better than you how debilitating they can be.

  • Does your headache make you feel drained?
  • Are you unable to concentrate?
  • Do you feel irritable and “toxic”?
  • Does it deplete your energy?

These are some of the most common comments that patients with headache mention in my clinic.

Pharmacological medications can help people to manage the symptoms but are not always the solution to the cause of the headache. The side effects of long term use of NSAIDs are well documented and researched – take a look at this report from American Gastroenterological Association

I often see people who have been on painkillers for long time and who are stuck in a vicious cycle. As soon as they stop medication, their headache seems to come back with a vengeance! Maybe you are one of them.

First of all, headaches are not all the same. Causes are usually multi factorial and treatment approaches vary greatly from individual to individual based on the underlying causative factors. Here are some of the most common.

The musculoskeletal connection

Tension, especially in the upper part of your back, neck and shoulders can lead to episodes of headache, usually in the posterior part of the head and towards the back of the eyes.

Working long hours at a computer or doing manual jobs are just a couple of examples of activities that can generate these kinds of tension.

Concussion, even if it happened a long time ago, can eventually lead to episodes of “unexplained” headaches. In these cases, the body may have learned to compensate for a traumatic event or injury. One may be unaware that there is something “off balance” in the body, but the effects of the concussion may still be present and relevant to current symptoms.

Underlying undetected dental infection, sinusitis, periodontal disease, dental occlusion issues and orthodontics are also very common causative factors.

Taking pain medication in these cases will relieve the pain, but not the underlying cause, with the end result that people tend to have reoccurring episodes of headaches later on.

Osteopathic treatment can ease tension in the body which is contributing to headaches.

The visceral connection

By “viscera”, I mean your organs and the associated veins, nerves, arteries, lymph nodes etc.

We tend to forget that the body contains much more than just muscles and bones. Our viscera have extensive connective tissue relationships to the musculoskeletal system. The nervous system is very good at exerting as little stress as possible on the viscera, often at the expense of the muscles and joints. Put simply, this means that musculoskeletal pain often originates from underlying metabolic/physiological imbalances. 

Case Study

John consulted me because he had been suffering with headaches for over 10 years. Unfortunately, the episodes of pain had become worse in intensity and frequency, despite his increasing the dosage of the medication he had been taking for the last 5 years. He had a brain scan, neck X-Ray, blood tests and nothing was found to be abnormal.

John was in a very stressful job and did not look after his diet which mainly consisted of sandwiches, ready meals and the occasional salad. He often took Ranitidine to alleviate the symptoms of acid reflux and a steroid inhaler to relieve episodes of asthma attacks.

After the first treatment, which mainly involved easing tension coming from his lungs, kidneys, liver and cranium, he reported large improvement of symptoms and better breathing. Subsequently, in adjunct to the osteopathic treatment, we looked into dietary modification and lifestyle changes to help him better deal with stress.

Shortly after, his headaches completely went away, and he started to make more conscious choices when it came to food and began to implement relaxation and stress management techniques into his daily routine.

Toxic Overload

Although the body is designed to eliminate toxins, it cannot always handle the overload present in today’s environment.

It is estimated that more than 84,000 chemicals are used in household products, cosmetics, food and food packaging alone and, what’s most alarming, is that most of these have never been tested for safety!

But it’s not just toxins from external sources that affect your health - toxins are produced inside the body too. These are waste products from normal metabolic activities, such as urea, carbon dioxide and lactic acid and others that are produced as a result of health problems such as intestinal dysbiosis, where levels of beneficial bacteria are low and harmful microorganisms proliferate.

Many of these pathogenic microorganisms produce unwanted toxins, which the body must work hard to eliminate on a daily basis. Toxic overload can lead to a variety of health problems, among which, are headaches.

The brain has a specialized network of paravascular tunnels called the glymphatic system that clears waste from the brain and supplies nutrients to nervous system tissue. It is most active during sleep and may have implications in headache as well as in neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Neuroscientists have now produced a fascinating video that shows this nocturnal pulsing process in action.

As an Osteopath, I have been trained in treatment approaches that are directed at affecting the circulation of the cerebrospinal fluid and its flow. Headaches can be reduced, also, by addressing the above-mentioned cranial system.


Headaches are often related to the menstrual cycle, with the most common being premenstrual migraines. They can also happen during other times in your cycle, usually when your period starts or when you ovulate. They can also occur randomly during perimenopause.

Often the hormone issue is oestrogen dominance (said in simple words: too much oestrogen relative to progesterone), which can contribute to period-related headaches.

Menstrual headaches

These happen during menstruation. At this time in your cycle, you have higher levels of inflammatory prostaglandins in your uterine lining. Women who experience headaches during menstruation have been shown to have even higher levels of these inflammatory chemical compounds.

How Osteopathy Can Help You

When we’re in pain, we’re often told that there’s nothing more that can be done, or it’s normal or common to have pain. This is not always the case. The good news is that all the above causative factors of headache can be modified and the body gently invited back to a healthier state, free of pain.

Osteopathic treatment takes a gentle and safe hands-on approach to alleviate pain and improve general health by restoring function, inherent motion and mobility, to various body structures. It enables the body to utilize its own self-regulating and healing mechanism more effectively.

I am passionate about helping you to feel better and empowering you with the tools and knowledge you can apply in your daily life so you’re more in control of your health and wellbeing.

If you are, like many of my patients, struggling with headaches and you want to get to the bottom of your health problems and embrace a healthier lifestyle, do not hesitate to contact me. I am interested in hearing your story and how I can help you and guide you through a process of changes towards better health.

Call our reception on 0131 225 5542 to make an appointment with Paola.