We typically think of physical therapy as a treatment for injuries or muscle pains, but did you know that it can also help get rid of headaches?
All of us experience headaches caused by stress or fatigue at some point, but when they become recurring and interfere with your daily life, it could signal the need for a more intensive approach. Physical therapy can provide relief and a long term solution for chronic headache sufferers.
Some people who come into the office for headaches report that this is the only symptom they’re experiencing. However, most patients have noticed additional issues in conjunction with their headaches, such as neck or shoulder pain. Headaches are often connected to other injuries that can be treated concurrently, but head pain can also be treated on its own.
As with any other injury, your first appointment will probably involve an assessment and interview so the therapist can determine what type of headache you are suffering from (i.e. tension headaches, migraines, or headaches as a result of another muscle pain or joint injury) and then design an individualized treatment plan for you. A physical therapist can identify the roots of your headaches and find any connections, like spasms of the face muscles, poor posture, or tightness between the shoulder blades. Depending on the structure and type of headache you are suffering from, treatments vary and may be combined. Application of heat/ice, stretches, spinal manipulation, and posture education are often utilized.
The therapist may ask you to make alterations or do some exercises at home in addition to the work you do together in the office. For instance, if it’s discovered that your headaches are a result of neck strain or poor posture, it may be recommended that you change your sleeping conditions or adjust your office chair to take pressure off your neck muscles. Continuing exercises at home will maintain improvements and help you troubleshoot any pain that comes up between sessions.
Treating headaches with physical therapy can provide benefits beyond just getting rid of aching or throbbing in one’s head. It can also improve joint mobility and strengthen the muscles in the upper back and neck, which will effectively lessen the likelihood of chronic headaches returning. A headache often makes any other discomfort feel even worse, so treating headaches can have a chain reaction and give you a clear mind to address other aches and pains.
Some patients see immediate improvements, while others may not feel significant results for several weeks. This all depends on the severity and root of your head or neck pain. If various treatment approaches and exercises aren’t improving your symptoms, your therapist may refer you to a physician to investigate if the headaches are stemming from a more serious illness. Most headaches are relatively harmless, but if your headaches involve quick onset of severe pain, are accompanied by vomiting, confusion, or loss of consciousness, contact a healthcare provider immediately.
When headaches are frequent and ongoing, they can interfere with our jobs, relationships, sleep, and quality of life. If you experience recurrent headaches and have tried other remedies with no success, physical therapy might be a good option for you.