Headaches can be caused by pressure inside the head from restricted blood flow, increased craniosacral fluid, hormonal imbalances, medication or recreational drugs, neck muscle tension, anxiety, anger, a blow to the head or sudden deceleration, or in rare cases a bleed or growth or tumour pressing on the brain.
One sided headaches like migraine are commonly related to neck muscle tension (cervicogenic). At the top of your neck you have a bone called the axis (C2). It has a peg on it (the ordontoid peg), that stops your head falling off and acts like an axis. Above the axis is a bone called the atlas (C1), The atlas has a hole in it that allows the ondontoid peg to sit surrounded by ligaments. The atlas has two projections that run out to the side called transverse processes. The arteries that run up the vertebrae loop out and in again over these projections. They meet again into one blood vessel called the basilar artery. This joins the loop around the base of the brain called the Circle of Willis. I find with most migraines that there is a rotation of the atlas leading to stretching of the vertebral arteries more on one side than the other. Learn to balance this complex of joints, ligaments, bones and muscles and you will relieve many people of their headaches.
Tip: Stand behind someone who is seated. Place your middle finger tips gently in the dip mid-way between the angle of the jaw and the mastoid process. Ask them to turn their head each way. If you are very gentle you will feel the tips of the transverse process of the atlas bone.
Pauline (not her real name), came to see me with a frozen shoulder. Her husband was suffering a terminal illness and subsequently died. She was holding onto the memories and felt the pain in her shoulder. As we worked on it I noticed that the trapezius muscles were very contracted on the same side as the shoulder. I asked her if she suffered headaches. She said that she had suffered migraines for 50 years. I worked the head into side bending, rotation and used muscle energy techniques to balance the skull on the neck. As we mobilised the head we both felt a subtle click as the atlas slipped back into place. She reported the following week that she had the first 4 pain free days in 50 years. It took more sessions of course but migraines are now the exception not the rule.
Maureen (not her real name), came to see me with headaches. She had suffered for 12 years from the age of 3, as best her mother could remember. I checked the pressure in the head by very gently placing my hands either side of the temples. When I gently lifted the head either side just above the ears I felt one side resisting more than the other. My impression was that the dura or tough membrane that protects the meninges and spinal chord, was tethered. I asked her mother if she had ever fallen. It turned out that her father was a Judo instructor. She had started Judo at the age of 3. With her mother watching we first of all worked to balance the coccyx and sacrum between the hip bones to remove some of the tension in the dura. Then I followed the subtle movement of the membranes and gentle wave like motion of the craniosacral fluid. The techniques can be learned if you go on courses run by the Upledger Institute. After six sessions the headaches had reduced to just the occasional one before a period. Another young woman of 17 also had migraines that had lasted for 12 years with a similar outcome. For her it felt like the headaches were “expanding and shrinking.”
Craniosacral fluid is produced in the space around the brain at about 0.5 litre a day. It forms a gentle wave with roughly a six second cycle. It flows through fluid filled cavities called ventricles and into the spinal chord. the fluid feeds and lubricates the nervous system, distributes hormones and possible some vitamins. If the small gap behind the ears or the dural membranes are restricted the flow of fluid can be limited. The gap lies between the bony bump called the mastoid process and the occiput or bone at the back of the skull. Underneath is the jugular foramen. The nerves to the trapezius muscles (cranial nerve IX), the vagus nerve (cranial nerve X),the venous drainage all follow a similar route.