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Is Physiotherapy Truly A Winner When It Comes To Migraines?

Last updated on July 18, 2020

There are countless people who suffer from migraines. They are desperate to find a place or someone to turn to so they can stop the madness once and for all. Research based on physiotherapy directed at treating the upper neck is showing lots of promise.

The spine has many disks with the first ones from the top of the spine down being C1, C2, C3, and so on. The research that was done involved applying pressure to one of those discs. The pressure would actually ‘induce’ the migraine and then safely remove it. The goal was to condition or ‘reprogram’ the body so it would stop having the migraines altogether.


In physiotherapy Cambridge patients are able to see some really dramatic results, the kind that years of diets and medication could not get. For years practitioners of medicine believed that headaches were the results of abnormalities existing in the blood vessels of the brain. However, today’s neurologists are bending more toward the fact that some headaches may actually be brought on by a dysfunction within the upper cervical spine.

Although mechanical dysfunction is already considered a factor in migraines, there seems to be a true lack of awareness within the medical profession as well as in the general public regarding physiotherapy and how it can help.

One qualified physiotherapist (Alison Sentance) has the capability of performing the same tasks in these situations as a neurologist. They can perform neurological examination techniques (like fundoscopy). She is a primary practitioner who is able to go beyond what routine physiology training provides. She even gets referrals from GPs and neurologists. Again, this is very promising news.


Alison still believes there is a serious lack of understanding within the medical profession regarding the huge role a physiotherapist can play in treating migraine headaches. She says that a neurologists doesn’t think about physiotherapy as being key in treating cervicogenic headaches, that they’d simply treat them with medications and they still may not lose the headache.

The Watson’s Technique

Dr. Watson has a technique based on a close examination of the cervical spine segments to check for dysfunction. The method requires slow and passive movement and different positioning.

The theory he proposes states that if mechanical dysfunction exists, then the manipulation is going to first reproduce the head pain and other associations, but will lessen as the method is sustained. He uses manipulation (as a physiotherapist) to reproduce the headache, which is key to diagnosing cervicogenic headaches.

Michael O’Reilly

Michael O’Reilly has been treating headaches in private practice for 6 years. He bases his own technique, not exclusively but heavily, on Dean Watson’s. It is an intensely thorough upper cervical spine assessment. He integrates that with other types of neck course actions like techniques for spinal segmentation stabilization.

He believes that once you identify the headache’s source you have several options to check out and not everybody responds the same. That makes diagnosis difficult. It takes a broad range of diagnosing methods to effectively treat headaches.

The Awareness Factor

One of the most passionate advocates for physiotherapy is Ms Davies. She believes it is emerging as a specialty but still needs the awareness level raised for its benefits for migraines and other headaches of cervicogenic origin.

Ms Davies states that ‘there are physiotherapists out there who are already trained and chomping at the bit to get started. However, we are at a point where more evidence is needed to make the general public pay attention. That will raise the awareness level’.

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