Migraine and headache types

Headaches and migraines of different types can have a common cause.
Headaches and migraines with different names and symptoms can have a common cause.

Headache and migraine types that can be treated with the Watson Headache ® Approach:

  • migraine – includes menstrual migraine, food/smell/light-triggered migraine, silent migraine
  • cervicogenic (neck-related) headache
  • tension-type headache
  • cluster headache
  • hemicrania continua
  • chronic paroxysmal hemicrania


How can it be that so many headache and migraine types could have a neck contribution?


Physios, osteopaths, chiros and headache sufferers themselves have known for years how commonly the neck is involved in headache problems.  However the body of research hasn’t been strong, so much so that the International Headache Society estimate that ‘cervicogenic headache’ is rare.

The good news for sufferers of headache and migraine is that there is an expanding body of evidence that sheds some light on what happens with headache and migraine sufferers, and a key area is the trigeminocervical nucleus in the lower brainstem.

The trigeminocervical nucleus receives information from the head and face, and also from the upper three segments of the neck.

This overlay of information between the two areas is the way in which neck pain can be felt as a headache.

This group of cells in the brainstem has been shown to become extra-sensitive in headache and migraine sufferers.  This has been found to remain sensitised in between headache bouts, not just during the episode of headache.  This means that it takes less to ‘tip it over the edge’ and give you a headache.bigstock-Education-concept-Head-1000-750

This means that headache/migraine sufferers have an area of the brainstem that is primed all the time, until an event or an input takes it beyond a certain threshold and results in a headache/migraine.

This event or input can be any number of things – smell, food, alcohol, normal hormonal change during menstrual cycle, an increase in muscle tension or a prolonged posture.

Because this region of the brainstem receives sensory information from both areas, it means that any dysfunction of the upper three segments of the neck is capable of sensitising it, but also that by treating the upper neck the sensitivity can be helped to return to normal, resulting in less headaches.

Through more than 20 years of treating clients with headaches exclusively, Dean Watson has determined that involvement of the upper cervical spine isn’t a rare occurrence at all, and in fact neck involvement is common and can be treated effectively and successfully to improve or eliminate headaches of all types.

Dean’s method of assessment and treatment that is taught worldwide and has helped thousands of headache sufferers.

Dean Watson, the founder and director of the Watson Headache Institute, is completing his PhD on the role of the upper three segments in headache and migraine. He has demonstrated that reproduction and lessening of a sufferer’s normal headache pain is capable of desensitising the involved part of the brainstem, the trigeminocervical nucleus.


In summary, treatment of the neck works in two ways:

  • it helps the neck joints and muscles work and move more normally, and

  • it can be used to desensitise the involved region of the lower brainstem.


How can treating the neck help hormone-related migraine headaches?

Evidence shows that the hormone profile in menstrual migraine sufferers is no different to those that do not suffer migraines.

The difference in menstrual migraine sufferers is that the normal change in hormone levels at Day 1 or mid cycle are acting on a lower brainstem that is already sensitised, and this is enough of a trigger to make the headaches happen.

By treating the neck, the hypersensitivity of the trigeminocervical nucleus can be reduced, therefore reducing its sensitivity to the normal hormonal changes of the menstrual cycle, and eliminating the cyclical headaches.


What is the role of medication in headaches?

The triptan group of medications (imigran is one example) are frequently given for migraine headaches. Their action is to desensitise the brainstem, which is how they can abort a migraine.

When the Watson Headache ® Approach is applied, it can have a similar desensitising effect on the trigeminocervical nucleus, except this is a long term effect rather than the short-acting effect of the triptans.

One of the ways that you can measure the effectiveness of the treatment is by your need for medication.  The majority of patients require less headache medication. For some people, medications that have stopped helping become effective again, so that stronger medication is no longer needed.

If you would like to reduce your reliance on medication for your headaches, the Watson Headache Approach may be what you are looking for.