Nearly everyone will experience a headache during their lifetime.  For many, medication can quickly resolve the problem, especially when headaches are only occasional.  For some, the headaches are more frequent or chronic, and reliance on pain-killers may not be a healthy way to continue.

At any given time, 15% of Australians are taking pain-relieving medication for a headache.  That’s a lot of pills !


But not all headaches are the same.

Different headaches have different causes, and require different treatments to resolve.

While there are many types of headaches people suffer from, I’ve chosen five headache types that I see on some frequency.

tension headache

Tension headache

So you’ve woken up and that headache is back.  Or perhaps it’s never quite gone.  A vice-like grip around the head.  The neck, back and shoulders feel like they’re starting to join in now too.  As is life wasn’t stressful enough, this damn headache goes and compounds the stress.  You just feel like slumping at the desk, popping more pills, more coffee, more anything to get through the day…

Tension headaches are the most common types of headaches.  Two out of three people will experience a tension headache at some time in their life.  At any one time, average prevalence is 36% for men and 42% for women.

These types of headaches feel like a constant ache or band of pressure around the head, especially at the temples or back of the head and neck.

They are often caused by physical or emotional stress.  Physical stress often arises through misalignment of the spine and neck, poor posture and muscle tension.  Emotional stress triggers the body’s fight/flight response, increasing adrenaline and reducing endorphin levels, and causing contraction of muscles in the neck and scalp.

Over-the-counter medication can help the occasional headache, but if the problem is chronic (defined as more than 15 days/month), then it’s definitely worth seeking other help.

Bowen Therapy is a fantastic option to help tension headaches.  Bowen Therapy helps calm the nervous system, moving out of that stressed fight/flight mode that so many live in.  Assessment of posture and alignment can help determine whether any physical stressors are obvious, and help to bring the body back into alignment.

A client I treated a few weeks ago had postural problems, aching neck, constant headaches around her head.  She was all smiles when she returned for a second treatment – no headaches in the past week – something she didn’t think she could experience !

headache migraine


You can feel it’s going to happen before it happens, you just know that a migraine is coming on.  Then your vision starts to change, blind patches or blurriness, the aura.  Sometimes tingling or numb skin too.  And then that throbbing headache kicks in, usually on one side of the head.  For some, nausea makes everything feel even worse, and that photosensitivity has you retreating to a dark, quiet place until it’s over.  Sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for a few days.  And once the headache is gone, you just feel tired and washed out.

About 15% of people suffer a migraine at some stage in their lives.  For some they are infrequent, as little as once or twice a year, but for others they can be as often as two or three times a week.

Three times as many women suffer migraines versus men.  There is a belief that hormones play a role in migraines.  Many can link their migraines with their menstrual cycle.  Changes can be seen through adolescence, pregnancy and menopause, with prevalence increasing during reproductive years.

There is no specific known cause of migraines, no clear cure, and prevention can be difficult.  Migraines are often triggered by a combination of factors including – menstrual cycle, diet and specific foods, sleep, physiochemical, or emotional/stress.

Many sufferers know their triggers, and actively avoid them to reduce the risk of migraine.  Medication can help during a migraine, and some take medication as a preventative measure.  Non-medication therapies help many, and may include acupuncture, relaxation/meditation, herbal or homeopathic remedies, and of course Bowen Therapy.

Bowen moves that help reduce the frequency and severity of migraines influence the deep fascia layers.  Work around the coccyx (tailbone) are commonly used to support migraines, especially those with a hormonal link.

Research conducted in the UK had 39 participants receive 3 Bowen Treatments over a 2 week period, followed by a 4 week observation period.  80% of those involved experienced a decrease in frequency, severity or both.

headache rebound medication overuse

Medication Overuse (Rebound) Headache

A while back you used to get the occasional headache, a migraine or a tension headache.  A couple of tablets would do the job.  Then the headaches became more frequent, so you took more medication to help the pain.  Now the headache is constant, there from the time you wake in the morning.  And handfuls of tablets won’t budge it !

Medication Overuse Headaches (MOH), or rebound headaches, are a common problem that develops when people who have migraines or tension headaches use acute headache medication too often to treat their headaches.  Acute medications are those intended to be taken when a headache occurs, rather than prevent them.  Paracetamol, codeine, triptans and many containing caffeine are acute mediations.

These headaches may improve with medication, but return as medication wears off.  Often the sufferer then takes more medication, starting a cycle of relief and rebounding headache, because the triggers remain.

Rather than address the cause of the headache, it often seems easier to just keep taking pain-relieving medications.  Most people are aware that they are taking too much medication.  What they don’t often realise is that overusing certain medications can actually lead to a worsening of their headaches.  Headache Australia says that in headache centres up to 50-80% of patients have MOH.

Many people could see a significant decrease in headache frequency and severity after stopping taking medication.  However, medical support may be needed to reduce the dependence on some medication.

Bowen Therapy helps MOH sufferers by treating the original source of the headache, whether that be migraine or tension headaches.  Addressing the cause of the headaches, together with weaning off medication, reduces the frequency and severity of headaches.

headache tmj jaw

TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint) Headache

You’re not sure if it’s a migraine coming on, or a tension headache, or is it something else ?  You’ve got pain in the side of your face, it feels really tender around that jaw-joint.  Sometimes it spreads, to the ears, behind the eyes, the back of the head or into the neck.  If you chew, or yawn, or even talk a bit, the pain gets worse.  Your jaw also makes a clicking or popping noise when opening or closing your mouth, and it just feels so stiff and stuck.

Problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), or the jaw, can set off bad headaches.  These often seem like a tension headache or a migraine, and are known to trigger migraines in those who are susceptible to them.

A few symptoms set them apart from other headache types – pain radiating from the TMJ, stiffness in the jaw, and crackling or grinding noise when moving the jaw.  This could be caused by dental issues, jaw clenching, and stress, resulting in muscle tension in the jaw area.

Key to helping these types of headaches is addressing the problems with the jaw, helping re-gain alignment of the jaw.  This can be achieved through regular dental treatment, or gently through Bowen Therapy.

A past client’s experience really stands out.  Ever since she had her wisdom teeth removed, she suffered horrendous migraines.  Often when wisdom teeth are removed under general anaesthetic, the jaw is dislocated (and hopefully properly relocated) in the process.  My client had spoken with her dentist and doctor about the headaches, who referred her to a pain clinic.  A few Bowen sessions working on the muscles around the jaw and TMJ helped those headaches subside significantly.

headache sinus

Sinus Headache

There’s a deep constant pain in your forehead and/or cheeks.  Your head feels like it just wants to explode when you move.  Your eyes feel watery and itchy, and your face feels like its swollen and tender.  You might also have a fever, from the infection in the sinuses.  Those sinuses feel so blocked, and if you can just clear some of that mucus out, you’re sure you’d feel better !

When sinuses becomes inflamed, perhaps due to an infection, they can cause pain. It usually comes with a fever and can be diagnosed by symptoms of sinusitis.  It’s said that true sinus headaches are uncommon, that many people may actually have a tension headache or migraine.  However, often those who know they suffer congested sinuses commonly feel this type of headache.

While antibiotics are often needed to treat the infection, Bowen Therapy can also help sinuses.  Specific moves for the upper respiratory system and sinuses help ease congestion, allowing the sinuses to begin to clear – often very quickly.

One client sent a message about her trip home in the car after treatment – “I’m glad that I had a box of tissues in the car – I needed them !”  This was followed by another message the next morning – “You are a miracle worker. First night sleep since Friday without an excruciating headache!!  Thank you so so so much !”

headache bowen therapy

The headache types here are just a handful of the multitude of types of headaches that people experience.

Different headaches have different symptoms, different causes, and require different approaches to treatment.

Bowen treatments will vary by type of headache, and other issues that the client experiences.  Some are best treated by addressing overall posture, while other headache types require more targeted moves once the body is in a level of balance.  Some people may feel relief with only a couple of treatments.  Other headache types may require a little longer treatment course to address the root cause of the problem, the deeper tissue in the body.


Want to understand how Bowen Therapy can help your specific headache problem ?

Contact Lisa at simply bowen therapy if you’re in Sydney to ask questions and discuss the approach that we’d take… or look up your local Bowen Therapist for help…


photo credits:

diegofornero (destino2003) via VisualHunt.com CC BY-ND

Peter Hellberg via VisualHunt CC BY-SA

makelessnoise via Visual hunt CC BY