Migraine and headache treatment: The Watson Approach [2022]

headache and watson treatment

 Headache and migraines are one of the most common disorders suffered today.

In this article we explore what is happening with your headache and how we can do to alleviate this problem for you today. What causes headaches and how can they be treated.

Here are some quick facts before we go any further:

  • There are over 300 + types of headache and migraine identified.
  • Most headaches are not an indication of serious problems.
  • Despite the huge number of headache types they share a common site of pain generation.
  • Often the different types of headache and migraine have a common factor: they are related to the upper part of your neck.
  • Treating this area is key to getting relief in the short and long term.

What are the causes of headache or migraine?

Common triggers for headache and migraine sufferers include but are not limited to ;

  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Hormonal changes
  • Degenerative change in cervical spine
  • Muscle weakness and tightness

Book a Physio online

The  different headache and migraine types share a common feature

headache and migraines
how the upper neck and brainstem are closely related

Although every headache or migraine may have a different triggers, the pain signals all pass through the upper cervical spine (upper neck) and via your brainstem.

The upper neck comprises of three levels that can contribute to your headache. theses are:

C0/C1 : Head sits on top of the neck and its movement is a nodding action of the skull on the neck . Like a golf ball spinning on the tee.

C1/2: The next joint gives us the most rotation of our neck, allowing us to turn our head.

C2/3: This segment is also involved in the turning action of the head and also bending the neck left to right

As you can see in the diagram sitting deep in this level is the brainstem which is the nervous system hub that gets sensitized in headaches and migraines.


how brainstem is sensitised by different stressors

Headaches and migraines symptoms are the result of an overly sensitive nerve centre in the brain (brainstem). This means that normal stimuli that shouldn’t give you a headache or migraine, sometimes will trigger a migraine due to the increased sensitivity.

These stimuli or triggers can include;

  • Food or smells
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Neck movements or postures

Therefore, if your headache or migraine has a combination of upper cervical dysfunction and/or brainstem sensitivity it can be treated successfully at this region.

The Watson headache approach which aims at identifying which of the upper 3 vertebrae (upper levels of your neck) are the source of your headache or migraine. After identifying the level  treatment techniques can be directed at this level to resolve your headaches and reduce the sensitivity of the nervous system.

Book Arana Hills Physio Online

What migraine or headache type do I have ?

There are over 300+ types of headaches – but lets start with 5 of the most common headaches we can treat;

migraines treatment | Arana Hills Physiotherapy

1. Migraine headaches.

If you have ever experienced a “migraine” you know it is a very unpleasant experience. Migraine symptoms (to name a few) can range from:

  • Throbbing head pain
  • Dizziness
  • Visual disturbances
  • Auras
  • Nausea &/or vomiting

Symptoms are often different for everyone, some even occur without head pain (often called “silent” migraines).

Frequency can be different for everyone, some having attacks weekly, monthly or some every few years. It is very common for migraine suffers to also have a different type of headache (for example, tension type headache) which has different symptoms to their normal migraine type pain/symptoms – this may be a daily headache, or a pre-curser to getting a migraine – or the aftermath of a migraine episode.

2. Tension Headaches.

tension headaches | Arana Hills Physiotherapy

Tension headaches are described as a band-like, compressing/tightening feeling around the head. They can last for hours, or be continuous for days – or even become a daily chronic headache. Some people link them to stress, fatigue or dehydration, although some tension headaches can also come on without any real provocation.

Tension headaches although often not as severe intensity as a “migraine”, for some can be very debilitating due to their constant, annoying and distracting nature.

Book Arana Hills Physio Online

3. Cervicogenic headaches.

A cervicogenic headache literally means “a headache that comes from the neck” – so basically, any of the above headaches technically fit into this criteria as well.

Cervicogenic headaches can be one sided or bilateral, or often swapping sides, they are usually associated with neck pain (but not always), and scans are usually clear. All these signs point that you neck is the likely cause of your headache.

4. Cluster Headaches.

A cluster headache is severe and debilitating. Cluster headaches are excruciating pain, usually around the eye region (but can be other parts of the face). A cluster attack can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours, episodes can be as frequent as weeks or months/years.

People with these types of headaches have often had various treatments, medication/painkillers and often have been in hospital due to the severity of pain – but these are all just temporary fixes, and the cluster headache returns again at some point.

5. Hormonal Headaches.

Hormonal headaches are another gem that us lucky females can experience, which doesn’t affect males! A hormonal headache is a headache that always appears around the time of your monthly cycle, usually they begin a few days prior, but can be the day of, or a day or two into their cycle. These headaches often last at least a couple days, some being as “severe” as a migraine-like headache which may include nausea/vomiting symptoms or it may be more of a “tension-type” headache as we discussed above.

It’s easy to blame hormones for this – however, wouldn’t all women experience the same thing if that was the case?

To keep this simple – if you experience hormonal/menstrual headaches your neck and brainstem are receiving what would be normal changes in serotonin (which signals pass through your neck and lower brainstem) as abnormal input and the result is a headache.

How can all these different types of headaches be treated?

The good news is that although there are many different types of headache , they all seem to have a very common feature that is responsible for your pain.

Although every headache or migraine may have a different trigger, the pain signals all pass through the upper cervical spine (upper neck)  via your brainstem – therefore, the majority of headaches can be treated successfully at this region.

The system we use at Arana Hills physiotherapy is the Watson Headache approach which has proven to be a very successful method for a wide range of individuals.

All of these types of headaches can be helped with a proper assessment and treatment of your neck via the Watson headache approach. Generally about 80% of people with headache or migraine get significant relief using the Watson Headache Approach.

What is the Watson headache treatment approach?

The Watson headache approach aims at identifying which of the upper 3 vertebrae (upper levels of your neck) are the source of your headache or migraine. After identifying the level, treatment techniques can be directed at this level to resolve your headache.

In your first assessment we are usually able to confirm whether your neck is the likely cause of your headache or not. The Watson Headache® Approach is the most reliable and likely treatment to work with any type of headache, and has been used successfully for many years.

This uses direct movement of your joints (of the upper neck) and reproduction and reduction of your head pain which aims to resolve your headache pain for good.

Rochelle is a level 2 trained Watson Practitioner. You can find out more about the Watson headache technique and how to book in to see me here


Book Arana Hills Physio Online