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Physical Therapy for Headaches

Man rubbing temples from headaches

Physical Therapy for Headaches

Many people suffer from headaches as often as daily.  Did you know that physical therapy treatments can help with multiple types of headaches?  Many headaches originate with dysfunctions and problems in the neck such as tight muscles, trigger points, poorly moving joints and improper posture. 

A headache usually occurs as a response to different stimuli from the body.  At some point there is enough stimulus to reach a threshold and then the body begins to feel the headache.  Think of it like a bucket of water.  The multiple stimuli are the water that fill the bucket and that threshold is reached when the water starts spilling over the sides.  Each one of the problems mentioned above (tightness, trigger points, etc) all act as different stimuli to potentially cause a headache.  If we eliminate each of these problems it is like taking the water out of the bucket and thus greatly eliminating the likelihood of having a headache.

Physical therapy is an excellent choice for eliminating these stimuli.  If you have tight muscles and/or trigger points in your neck the therapist will likely perform massage, stretching and dry needling to help loosen your muscles.  If your joints are stiff the therapist will do joint mobilizations or manipulations and range of motion exercises to restore normal mobility.  It could also be that your joints have too much motion at which point stabilization exercises are helpful to keep structures from constantly flaring up. 

Additionally, posture can play a huge part.  The way you hold you body affects the way you hold your head. Most of us tend to have rounded shoulders and a head the protrudes forward a little. This actually points your head in a position like you are looking at the ceiling all the time which shortens/pinches/tightens the muscles along the back of your neck.  Your physical therapist can instruct you in exercises as well as perform manual techniques that will help to change your posture, even a few millimeters of change can make a big difference in the pain you feel.

There are also multiple modalities that can help to reduce or eliminate the pain while you are having a headache instead of always having to reach for medication.  These include things such as electrical stimulation or TENS and traction or decompression therapies.

Overall, physical therapy is a great option for managing your headaches and can reduce both the frequency and intensity of headaches as well as reduce the amount of medication needed.