How Physical Therapy Can Cure Your Headaches

How Physical Therapy Can Cure Your Headaches

October 26, 2021

Do you, or someone you love, suffer from headaches?

For many patients, the misery of headaches disrupts their daily lives for decades before they find any relief. They miss social occasions. They take an uncomfortable number of sick days off work and make numerous trips to the doctor’s office – to get prescriptions for more pain pills. 

They try everything – from supplementation and herbal remedies to resting, exercise, eye checks, and more. But the tell-tale pounding pain of a headache just keeps on coming back.

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While most headaches are non-serious and go away naturally in a couple of hours, some suffer from chronic recurrent headaches. These intense headaches, migraines, and reoccurring headaches sabotage their plans, goals, and aspirations and ruin their quality of life. 

If the latter sounds like you, and you’ve been suffering for a long time, you’re probably skeptical about the idea that physical therapy might help because you’ve tried so many things before that haven’t worked. We get it. BUT, the good news is – research supports it, as do the many hundreds of patients who are now living headache-free who were skeptical once upon a time too. 

In this blog, we explore the exact mechanisms that cause headaches and how physical therapy can help. 

What Exactly Is A Headache?

I mean, if you suffer from daily banging headaches, you don’t need any more of an explanation than that about what a headache is, right?

But for clarification purposes, we classify any pain that originates in the head as a headache. But a headache isn’t just a headache – there are different types and causes of headaches. The International Headache Society (yes, there is an entire society dedicated to headaches) has a long list of different kinds of headaches used by specialist doctors and neurologists.

Still, we’ll stick to the basics and the most common types of headaches that we see in our clinic for this article.

The most common types of headache we see are:

  • Tension-Type Headaches – you’ll feel this one on both sides of your head, sometimes your neck. Again, the cause is anything that stresses your body – such as stress, trauma, sleep deprivation, or dehydration. 
  • Cluster Headaches – you’ll really feel this one, as intense pain is a tell-tale symptom of cluster headaches. Pain is likely to be worse on one side of your head, usually surrounding one of your eyes. 
  • Migraines – with a migraine, you’ll feel an unrelenting “throbbing” pain on one side of your head. You may also experience nausea and sensitivity to light. Most migraines sufferers report having to “lie in a darkened room.”
  • Sinus Headaches – the pain from a sinus headache is quite specific. You’ll feel it in your face where your sinuses are, usually around the nose and under the eyes. 
  • Cervicogenic headaches – these types of headaches are usually caused by an issue with the musculoskeletal system or spine, most often the neck or shoulders. 

The types of headaches listed above are the cause of most primary headaches. But secondary headaches may also occur from underlying medical issues like infections, fever, and occasionally, from a tumor or something more serious. 

We commonly find headaches in those suffering from neurological issues like spinal or brain injuries, strokes, and multiple sclerosis.

How Physical Therapy Helps Cure Headaches 

So, there are various causes for headaches, and you can significantly improve most of them with the right type of support. But the most important aspect of curing your headaches is to, first, identify the kind of headaches you have. This identification is vital to decrease their intensity and frequency.

As physical therapists, we see just about every type of headache there is. So we can quickly identify the cause of your headaches from the location of your pain, their frequency, intensity, and pain pattern. 

Cerviogenic Headaches

The most common headaches we see are those generated by musculoskeletal problems, also called cervicogenic headaches. These headaches occur because of stress, improper posture, extreme fatigue, jaw or neck issues.

For example, with arthritis or a jaw, neck, or head injury, you may experience pressure in the muscles at the back of the head and on the facial nerves. In addition, not maintaining the proper posture may overwork the ligaments and muscles, leading to a headache.  


What Does a Cerviogenic Headache Feel Like?

Muscle spasm headaches originate at the back of the skull and travel to the eye and the forehead region. It may also lead to a dull or sharp pain near the jawbone along the cheeks, known as TMD (temporomandibular joint dysfunction).

Generally, patients describe tightness and pressure along the forehead. The pain can increase in certain positions, such as sitting upright or leaning forward, and can decrease when lying down in a rest position. 


How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

If you suffer from cervicogenic headaches, migraines, or any other type of primary headache, we recommend you book a consultation with a Physical Therapist. We will conduct a thorough physical examination and evaluate your medical history to find the specific root cause of your headaches.

We may also ask whether you’ve had any previous injuries during the consultation, specifically to the neck, jaw, or head. We’ll ask you to describe the symptoms in detail – such as the nature, location, and intensity of the pain – and whether anything triggers them.

As part of the physical evaluation to find the cause of your headaches, we may also test your sensory perception and muscle strength. Perform a test to assess the range of motion you have in your neck, shoulders, and other parts of the body.

We check your posture when sitting, standing, and moving around, and check joint mobility. Our prescribed treatment plan will depend on your presenting symptoms and the exact cause of your headaches.

If we deem the headaches to be secondary and caused by another medical condition, such as sinusitis, we may recommend that you consult your doctor for treatment. But in our experience, most chronic headaches relate to physical problems involving tension in the neck and shoulders.

With this in mind, we usually treat these types of headaches using a combination of therapeutic exercises and hands-on manipulation. But we may also suggest changes to your daily routine and lifestyle to reduce stress, tension and inflammation. But everything is specific to you. 

In more general terms, here are some of the ways that Physical Therapy can help cure your headaches:

Increase strength: We teach you to perform specific exercises that improve muscle strength and stabilize the neck and upper back. These exercises help correct poor posture and make it easier to stand or sit for extended periods without discomfort.  

Increase neck mobility: We use manual therapy to improve your neck movement and mobility, stretch the neck muscles and reduce your pain. 

Better posture: Having the correct form or posture is critical to reducing the incidence of headaches. We guide you through subtle movements that improve your posture, from adjusting the shoulder blades backward and together to pushing the chest out. These minor modifications can dramatically help improve your posture and cure headaches.  

Relieve stress: High levels of stress and anxiety can lead to tight neck muscles and shoulder tension, which in turn causes headaches. We design a workout plan to help you be more physically active and relieve muscle stress and tension. 

Our Top 5 Tips To Prevent Tension-Type Headaches

  1. If you use your phone a lot, opt for a headset instead of holding the phone to your ear – as this can cause tight neck muscles. 
  2. Modify the position of your computer or laptop to make sure you’re not twisting or extending your neck to look at the screen.
  3. Adjust screen height in line with your eye level, so you’re not looking up or down to focus on the screen.
  4. Consider investing in an ergonomically designed chair for back support
  5. Try Yoga, Meditation, or Massage to reduce your stress levels 

Get Help Now to Cure Your Headaches

As physical therapists, we go through years of education and training – studying the human body, the cause of different types of headaches, and their associated treatment protocols. Specifically, we are board-certified and have experience in neurological and orthopedic physical therapy.

Plus, patients with chronic headaches are some of the most commonly seen patients in our clinic. So we’re confident we can help reduce your pain – without pain pills or invasive treatment and prevent headaches from reoccurring.

Would you like our help with your headaches?

We offer all new patients the opportunity to chat with us first before booking and committing to treatment to check that it’s right for you. So, you don’t have to make any financial investment until you’re sure that we can help you.

We provide these taster consultations over the telephone or in-person at our Huntingdon, NY clinic. Ready to get out of pain and get back to normal?

Book your appointment now.

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