Elite PT March 2018 Newsletter – Curing Headaches and Migraines

Hi Everyone

Hope you’re surviving the prolonged winter.  Luckily spring is right around the corner – I hope!

Kristy and I recently drove out to Appleton, Wisconsin to take an advanced Functional Dry Needling course with Edo Zylstra from Kinetacore.  Edo is one of the top dry needling educators in the United States – THE best in my opinion plus he’s from Michigan so that has to count for something.

Anyway, we learned how to dry needle some of the more difficult to reach muscles plus how to treat more challenging conditions including headaches and migraines.  We’ve been treating headaches and migraines all along but we’ve definitely picked up some new techniques that will only help with more tougher cases.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any cool pictures this time as Kristy and I were too busy sticking needles in one another 10 hours per day.

Headaches/Migraines

Here are some scary stats:

In the U.S., more than 37 million people suffer from migraines. Some migraine studies estimate that 13 percent of adults in the U.S. population have migraines, and 2-3 million migraine suffers are chronic.

Almost 5 million in the U.S. experience at least one migraine attack per month, while more than 11 million people blame migraines for causing moderate to severe disability.

Migraines and headaches can have multiple causes, some of which are not well understood, but one of the most common causes is referred pain from muscles that have attachments to the head and neck.  I personally think this is very often overlooked by medical professionals as its usually easier to just prescribe drugs to cover up the pain.

Check out the pictures below showing some of the main culprits (muscles) and their referral patterns:

Upper Trapezius 
Upper Trapezius Headaches

Suboccipitals

Suboccipital Headaches

Sternocleidomastoid (SCM)
Sternocleidomastoid Headaches

These are all fairly superficial muscles that are easily treated with a number of manual therapy techniques although I do find dry needling works the quickest and the results are longer lasting.  There have been plenty of cases where a client walked in the door with a headache and left without one.

Case 1
This patient was rear ended 3 years ago resulting in severe headaches (9 out of 10 on the pain scale) 2-3x per week.  Chiropractic and physical therapy in the past gave him short term relief of his neck and back pain but didn’t help his headaches.

At the first visit we dry needled the upper trapezius muscles on both sides and over the course of the next week the intensity of his headaches decreased from a 9/10 to 2/10.

Visits 2-4 included the same treatment to the upper traps plus we hit a few of the upper back muscles (not shown above).  The patient reported no headaches at all after the 4th treatment as well as no longer having neck or upper back pain.

Follow up via phone 2 months after the last visit the patient indicated he was still pain free and had no further headaches.

Case 2

This patient had headaches so painful and frequent that she had to have an MRI/CT scan of her head to rule out serious pathology.  Luckily they didn’t find anything but we did find active trigger points in her upper trapezius and suboccipital muscles that referred pain directly into her head (basically the same patterns as you saw in the pictures earlier).

We dry needled her upper trap and suboccipital muscles 3x over a 2 week period.  Over the course of the following two weeks she had one headache that lasted 5 minutes.

Dry needling was performed only once more and following up three weeks later she had remained symptom free.

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These are just two cases recently with very successful outcomes, especially considering the chronic nature of each plus all the other treatments they had been through.

I can’t guarantee that every headache or migraine has a ‘muscular’ cause, but it’s not really that hard to tell during a physical therapy evaluation if that is indeed the case.  We can apply pressure, or just squeeze the muscle, and it will often refer straight to the head.  If that’s the case then that muscle is implicated and needs to be treated.

As you can see in both cases above the results were almost immediate.  One nice thing about dry needling is that is doesn’t take more than a couple sessions to see results.  We can often get good outcomes with other manual techniques as well but in my opinion dry needling usually works the fastest and is longer lasting.

If you’d like to see a quick demo on dry needling, check out the video on our homepage here:  http://www.elitepttc.com/  The subject in the video is actually my dad.  He had intense ‘ram’s horn headaches’ that wrapped around the side of his head – which is typical of the upper trapezius trigger points.

Hope that was some helpful information.  If you suffer from chronic headaches or migraines please contact us with any questions (231 421-5805).

Have a great finish to March!

Joe Heiler PT